A Choir of Crows by Candace Robb

a choir of crows

Publisher’s Blurb:

When two bodies are discovered in the grounds of York Minster shortly before the enthronement of the new archbishop, Owen Archer is summoned to investigate.

December, 1374. With the great and the good about to descend on York for the enthronement of Alexander Neville as the new archbishop, the city authorities are in a state of high alert. When two bodies are discovered in the grounds of York Minster, and a flaxen-haired youth with the voice of an angel is found locked in the chapter house, Owen Archer, captain of the city bailiffs, is summoned to investigate.

Tension deepens when an enigmatic figure from Owen’s past arrives in the city. Why has he returned from France after all these years – and what is his connection with the bodies in the minster yard and the fair singer?

Before Owen can make headway in the investigation, a third body is fished out of the river – and the captain finds himself with three mysterious deaths to solve before the all-powerful Neville family arrives in York.

My guest reviewer, husband Bob’s, review:

Candace Robb delivers an interesting, atmospheric historical mystery set in medieval York. Though the book has much to recommend it, there are several flaws which skillful editing should have helped her weed out. Any mystery, particularly a historical mystery, should begin with a map and a cast of characters. The author comes through with the first: two thumbs up for a map of Owen Archer’s York. However, a cast of characters is missing and sorely needed: Robb mentions around 30 characters by name and uses four different points of view in the first three chapters, and that does not include unnamed clerks, musicians, ruffians, and an unfortunate “kitchen wench” who is the first victim in the novel. The number of major and minor characters that strut and fret their hour upon the stage continues to increase as the narrative continues such that the narrative almost collapses under their collective weight.

Owen Archer is a likeable and dogged investigator who manages to navigate the webs of intrigue and shifting loyalties that surround him. The author provides a good sense of time and place. All in all, this is a mystery that is well worth the time, but which could have been better.

My thanks to Severn House Publishers for providing an ARC.

Bob’s Rating: 3.5 Stars.

Hardcover: 288 pages
Published:   June 30, 2020 by Severn House

Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown by Anne Glenconner

lady in waiting

Book Blurb:

Anne Glenconner has been at the center of the royal circle from childhood, when she met and befriended the future Queen Elizabeth II and her sister, the Princess Margaret. Though the firstborn child of the 5th Earl of Leicester, who controlled one of the largest estates in England, as a daughter she was deemed “the greatest disappointment” and unable to inherit. Since then she has needed all her resilience to survive the vipers of court life with her sense of humor intact.

A unique witness to landmark moments in royal history, Maid of Honor at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, and a lady in waiting to Princess Margaret until her death in 2002, Anne’s life has encompassed extraordinary drama and tragedy. In Lady in Waiting, she will share many intimate royal stories from her time as Princess Margaret’s closest confidante as well as her own battle for survival: her broken-off first engagement on the basis of her “mad blood”; her 54-year marriage to the volatile, unfaithful Colin Tennant, Lord Glenconner, who left his fortune to a former servant; the death in adulthood of two of her sons; a third son she nursed back from a six-month coma following a horrific motorcycle accident. Through it all, Anne has carried on, traveling the world with the royal family, including visiting the White House, and developing the Caribbean island of Mustique as a safe harbor for the rich and famous-hosting Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Raquel Welch, and many other politicians, aristocrats, and celebrities.

My Thoughts:

This was a book I listened to for one of my book groups.  It was quite entertaining and gave me a glimpse into the life of the British Royals.  Anne did not always have an easy life, but I admired the way she just kept forging ahead through all the challenges that were thrown her way.  This book has a bit of everything:  history, juicy gossip, and narrative that reads like fiction.  At times I was shocked at some of the things that she encountered. It definitely was a life that was very different from mine, yet I also found I could empathize with her as a mother. The audiobook was narrated by Anne, and it usually isn’t good for an author to narrate his or her own book.  That proved to be true here.  At times she was a little difficult to understand, and it didn’t read as smoothly as it could have.  So my suggestion would be to actually read the book rather than listen if you get the chance.

My Rating:  4 Stars

Hardcover: 336 pages
Published: October 17, 2019 by Hodder & Stoughton

Side Trip by Kerry Lonsdale

side trip

Book Blurb:

An unforgettable and breathtaking novel of love, loss, and the unexpected routes that life takes from Amazon Charts and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Kerry Lonsdale.

With her deceased sister’s Route 66 bucket list in hand, California girl Joy Evers sets out on a cross-country road trip to meet up with her fiancé, checking off the bullets along the way.

Singer-songwriter Dylan Westfield has a serious case of wanderlust and a broken-down car. Stuck at a diner between LA and Flagstaff, he meets Joy, his complete opposite. She’s energetic. He’s moody. She’s by the book. He’s spontaneous. She believes in love at first sight. He thinks love is a complicated mess. But Joy has a brand-new convertible.

They strike a deal. She’ll drive him to New York. He’ll pay for gas. Only three rules apply: no exchanging of last names; what happens on the road, stays on the road; and if one of them wants to take a side trip, they both must agree.

A heart-stirring love story that spans a decade, Side Trip explores what-if. What if Joy and Dylan had exchanged last names? What if he’d told her she made him believe love was worth the risk? And what if they hadn’t made that second deal when they couldn’t say goodbye?

Thank you to the publisher for making this book available through Netgalley for an honest review.

My Thoughts:

I adored this book. I thought the author artfully tackled the themes of guilt and grief. The story was engaging, quickly pulling me in, and I found the main characters captivating and likeable. Each of them is struggling in his/her own way with issues of grief and guilt, and Lonsdale portrayed that struggle realistically. The book also has a romance where each of the characters in drawn to the other, but each of them have a reason that makes them fight that attraction. Initially not acting on that attraction allows them to develop a delightful friendship along the trip where each of them helps the other one. It’s hard to talk about a part of the book that had a huge impact without giving it away ( I always hate when that happens). I will say have your tissues ready. This also had a very unique ending to the book which I appreciated.

Thank you to Netgalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Rating:  5 Stars

Print Length:  334 Pages

Expected Publication: July 7, 2020 by Lake Union Publishing

 

Daughters of Darkness (A Jennie Redhead Mystery) by Sally Spencer

daughters of darkness

Book Blurb:

 

Private investigator Jennie Redhead is hired to investigate a murder that’s left the police baffled, in this gripping historical mystery set partly in 1970’s Oxford and partly in war-torn 1940’s London.

Oxford, 1975. Three years ago, world-renowned anthropologist Grace Stockton was slain in a brutal, unprovoked attack. Despite a large-scale police investigation, the identity of the prime suspect was never uncovered . . . and neither was the location of Grace’s head. But Grace’s daughter, the wealthy academic Julia Pemberton, refuses to accept that the trail has run cold. Determined to find out who killed her mother, she knows just the woman for the job: private investigator Jennie Redhead. Who was the woman caught on CCTV visiting Grace’s isolated home on the day of the murder? And why did she cut off her victim’s head? Jennie’s search for answers takes her on a dark, disturbing journey into the past, from the ancient tribal customs of Papua New Guinea, to war-torn 1940’s London, and to a dark tangle of secrets and scandal that someone is desperate should never be revealed . .

My husband , Bob’s, Thoughts:

This was my first encounter with Sally Spencer and what a pleasant surprise it was. This is an atmospheric murder mystery, starring a female private detective, Jennie Redhead. Though Spencer uses two devices that I usually find offputting, shifting timelines and shifting points of view, she carries them off so well that I was not bothered. The mystery has its roots in the past and the scene shifts between wartime London with the story told in the third person and 1970s Oxford with the story told from Redfern’s perspective in the first person. Spencer delivers a rich, well-crafted mystery with finely drawn characters in the space of 224 pages. Many modern mystery writers are just getting warmed up in that span. Kudos to her: This is probably the best constructed mystery plot that I have read in quite a while. Moreover, she plays fair with the reader, sprinkling clues throughout the narrative so that if the reader doesn’t get there ahead of or at the same time as Redfern, forehead slaps are probably in order. Although this is apparently the third in the Redfern series, it clearly stands up well on its own.

Thanks to Severn House Publishers for an ARC.

Bob’s Rating: 5 Stars.

Hardcover:  224 pages

Expected publication: July 2nd 2020 by Severn House Publishers

 

 

 

Hello Summer by Mary Kay Andrews

Hello Summer

Book Blurb:

It’s a new season…

Conley Hawkins left her family’s small town newspaper, The Silver Bay Beacon, in the rearview mirror years ago. Now a star reporter for a big-city paper, Conley is exactly where she wants to be and is about to take a fancy new position in Washington, D.C. Or so she thinks.

For small town scandals…

When the new job goes up in smoke, Conley finds herself right back where she started, working for her sister, who is trying to keep The Silver Bay Beacon afloat—and she doesn’t exactly have warm feelings for Conley. Soon she is given the unenviable task of overseeing the local gossip column, “Hello, Summer.”

And big-time secrets.

Then Conley witnesses an accident that ends in the death of a local congressman—a beloved war hero with a shady past. The more she digs into the story, the more dangerous it gets. As an old heartbreaker causes trouble and a new flame ignites, it soon looks like their sleepy beach town is the most scandalous hotspot of the summer.

My Thoughts: 

Oh my, how I love a book set in the South! I’ve enjoyed every Mary Kay Andrews book I’ve read, but this one may be my favorite to date. This one had all the feels for me. Great characters, story, family relationships, setting, and a bit of a mystery to solve. This one maintained all the elements I’ve loved in her other books and seemed to have a bit more depth. I enjoyed this book especially because it included the current situation newspapers and journalism face because of tough times as a result of the move to digitalization.  Southerness is always an attraction for me, and I loved the quirkiness of some of the characters portrayed. Some reviewers have felt the book was too long, but I didn’t feel that was a problem, and I usually don’t like for books to go much past 350 pages. I listened to this one on audio and thought Kathleen McInerney did a good job narrating.  Mary Kay Andrews is an author I feel I can always depend on for an entertaining book set in the South.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length:  432 pages
Published: May 5, 2020 by St. Martin’s Press

The House on Widows Hill by Simon R. Green

the house on widows hill

Book Blurb:

Ishmael Jones investigates a haunted house . . . but is haunted by his own past in the latest of this quirky paranormal mystery series.

“That house is a bad place. Bad things happen there . . .”

Set high on top of Widows Hill, Harrow House has remained empty for years. Now, on behalf of an anonymous prospective buyer, Ishmael and Penny are spending a night there in order to investigate the rumours of strange lights, mysterious voices, unexplained disappearances, and establish whether the house is really haunted.

What really happened at Harrow House all those years ago? Joined by a celebrity psychic, a professional ghost-hunter, a local historian and a newspaper reporter, it becomes clear that each member of ‘Team Ghost’ has their own pet theory as to the cause of the alleged haunting. But when one of the group suddenly drops dead with no obvious cause, Ishmael realizes that if he can find out how and why the victim died, he will have the key to solving the mystery.

A Review from my husband, Bob:

This is my first Ishmael Jones novel though I will likely read more. It has a little bit of everything: murder mystery, haunted house/ghost story, a secret international organization, a touch of romance, and the weirdest backstory for a protagonist that I have ever run across. The backstory places this work clearly in the fantasy/science fiction realm. Dedicated detective fiction readers will probably beat Jones to the resolution of this murder mystery, and the book requires a lot of suspension of disbelief, but his is still an entertaining read. Simon Green has an engaging writing style with his tongue clearly in cheek in places, and he drives the plot along at a furious clip. Thanks to Severn House Publishers for this ARC. Check it out.

Rating:  4 Stars

Hardcover: 192 pages
Expected publication: July 2, 2020 by Severn House Publishers

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver

the two lives of lydia bird

Book Blurb:

Lydia and Freddie. Freddie and Lydia. They’d been together for more than a decade, and Lydia thought their love was indestructible.

But she was wrong. On her twenty-eighth birthday, Freddie died in a car accident.

So now it’s just Lydia, and all she wants to do is hide indoors and sob until her eyes fall out. But Lydia knows that Freddie would want her to try to live fully, happily, even without him. So, enlisting the help of his best friend, Jonah, and her sister, Elle, she takes her first tentative steps into the world, open to life–and perhaps even love–again.

But then something inexplicable happens that gives her another chance at her old life with Freddie. A life where none of the tragic events of the past few months have happened.

Lydia is pulled again and again across the doorway of her past, living two lives, impossibly, at once. But there’s an emotional toll to returning to a world where Freddie, alive, still owns her heart. Because there’s someone in her new life, her real life, who wants her to stay.

My Thoughts:

I thoroughly enjoyed Silver’s previous book, One Day in December, so I was looking forward to reading this one. It did not disappoint. The book centers on how life can take on a whole different direction in an instant and explores what life could have been vs. what it has become rather creatively. I enjoyed the character of Lydia and found the book compelling with both storylines as she worked her way through her grief, becoming stronger in the process. I did like the close relationship she had with her sister who was very supportive.  I did have a problem with one plot point, though. I could not understand how her family wasn’t able to understand her need to get away from it all. They sounded rather unexpectantly unempathetic. That, however, did not take away from the enjoyment of the book. I enjoyed this one somewhat less than One Day in December, but I am certainly glad that I read it. I look forward to her next book.

Thank you to the publisher and Edelweiss for a copy to read in exchange for an honest review.

My Rating:  4 Stars

Print Length: 369 pages
Published: March 3, 2020 by Ballantine Books (first published January 30, 2020)

Eliza Starts a Rumor by Jane L. Rosen

Eliza starts a rumor

My Book Blurb:

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. When Eliza Hunt created The Hudson Valley Ladies’ Bulletin Board fifteen years ago she was happily entrenched in her picture-perfect suburban life with her husband and twin preschoolers. Now, with an empty nest and a crippling case of agoraphobia, the once-fun hobby has become her lifeline. So when a rival parenting forum threatens the site’s existence, she doesn’t think twice before fabricating a salacious rumor to spark things up a bit.

It doesn’t take long before that spark becomes a flame.

My Thoughts:

I adored this book about the bonds of friendship and the damage a lie can cause. Rosen has developed a fabulous story with delightful characters that you just want to become friends with. Some of the characters have been life-long friends, while others are new to town and develop a bond. I mentioned in a previous post how so many books seem to switch each chapter between characters. I will say that it was bothering me somewhat in this book because I would get so caught up in certain characters’ stories, and then it switched, and then the same thing would happen with the next story. The stories are compelling, and I loved the support the women gave each other. I also enjoyed that this was more than just fluff. Rosen touched on some serious issues that the characters were struggling with. I highly recommend this engaging and heart-warming book. It was a great book to read during quarantine.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for a copy to read in exchange for an honest review.

My Rating:  4.5 Stars

Hardcover: 320 pages
Expected publication: June 23, 2020 by Berkley Books

 

 

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

ask again, yes

Book Blurb:

A profoundly moving novel about two neighboring families in a suburban town, the bond between their children, a tragedy that reverberates over four decades, the daily intimacies of marriage, and the power of forgiveness.

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, two rookie cops in the NYPD, live next door to each other outside the city. What happens behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne—sets the stage for the explosive events to come.

Ask Again, Yes is a deeply affecting exploration of the lifelong friendship and love that blossoms between Francis and Lena’s daughter, Kate, and Brian and Anne’s son, Peter. Luminous, heartbreaking, and redemptive, Ask Again, Yes reveals the way childhood memories change when viewed from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story, while tested by echoes from the past, is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.

My Thoughts:

I love books that delve into human interactions and the characters’ thoughts and actions in their everyday lives. Ask Again, Yes is one of those books. It has an absorbing storyline and presents authentic, ordinary characters faced with life’s challenges, and the characters realistically face those challenges. Along the way, Keane tackles complicated issues like mental illness, alcohol addiction, stresses resulting from everyday lives of work and marriage, navigating broken friendships, and the fallout from a tragedy. Multiple viewpoints allow the reader to gain more insight into the relationships. This book would be an excellent book for a book discussion.

Thank you to the publisher and Edelweiss for a copy to read in exchange for an honest review.

My Rating:  4 Stars

Hardcover: 390 pages
Published:  May 28, 2019 by Scribner

 

 

A Painted House by John Grisham

painted house

BOOK BLURB:

“The hill people and the Mexicans arrived on the same day. It was a Wednesday, early in September 1952. The Cardinals were five games behind the Dodgers with three weeks to go, and the season looked hopeless. The cotton, however, was waist-high to my father, over my head, and he and my grandfather could be heard before supper whispering words that were seldom heard. It could be a “good crop.”
Thus begins the new novel from John Grisham, a story inspired by his own childhood in rural Arkansas. The narrator is a farm boy named Luke Chandler, age seven, who lives in the cotton fields with his parents and grandparents in a little house that’s never been painted. The Chandlers farm eighty acres that they rent, not own, and when the cotton is ready they hire a truckload of Mexicans and a family from the Ozarks to help harvest it.

For six weeks they pick cotton, battling the heat, the rain, the fatigue, and sometimes each other. As the weeks pass Luke sees and hears things no seven-year-old could possibly be prepared for, and he finds himself keeping secrets that not only threaten the crop but will change the lives of the Chandlers forever.

MY THOUGHTS:

Back when John Grisham first started writing his legal thrillers, I read a lot of his books, but I haven’t read one in a while, and I haven’t read one of his non-legal thrillers. I don’t know if this book is typical, but I did not enjoy it as much as the thrillers. It is a coming of age story which I usually really enjoy, but this one just didn’t grab me and pull me in like some others I have read. There just wasn’t much storyline, and as a result, the book dragged. I enjoyed the book well enough, but if I didn’t have it for a book group, I wouldn’t have been compelled to pick the book up to continue reading. During our book discussion, I realized it actually has a lot of features I enjoy in a book- a strong sense of place, a caring family, and a small community- but those just didn’t pull me in as much either. A likable seven-year-old boy presents the story, but I often felt like he was talking and/or acting like a 10-12-year-old. The book did have some interesting characters in it. I know a friend of mine has liked some of his other non-thriller ones, so I’ll probably give one of them a try.

My Rating:  3 Stars

Paperback: 384 pages
Published: February 3,2004 by Bantam (first published March 2001)