I knew from Dianne Freeman’s first book that this was a special series, and the subsequent books have done absolutely nothing to change my initial opinion. In this installment, she manages to carry off the wedding of the main character without destroying the interest and tension in the novel. I can think of other series where a wedding can prove to be a disaster for the characters and only one other historical series, Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily books, where that was not the case. So, bravo to Ms. Freeman right off the bat, before I even got to the heart of the book (the wedding happens at the very beginning).
This charming first in a series has some kissing cousins – it bears a resemblance to Dianne Freeman’s Lady Harleigh series and to Darcie Wilde’s Rosalind Thorne books. Set in the same time period, 1830’s Britain, this book has a vivid, fast paced story telling style that makes it difficult to put down. Young Lady Caroline Morton has been disgraced by her father’s bankruptcy and suicide, so she’s left her aunt’s household and is – gasp – earning a wage as the companion of Mrs. Frogerton, a forthright, wealthy widow who is sending her daughter, Dorothy, out into the wilds of the London “season.”
A Fatal Overture is the third in Kathleen Marple Kalb’s wonderful mystery series set in New York City at the turn of the 20th century, featuring opera singer Ella Shane, a mezzo soprano “trouser diva,” known for singing male roles. Ella, the daughter of an Irish father and a Jewish mother, grew up in a tenement on the Lower East Side and was orphaned at an early age. The trauma of finding her mother’s body, frozen to death in their tiny room, has never truly left Ella. After being raised by her aunt on her father’s side of the family, Ella found a mentor, a famous opera singer, who discovered she had a great voice, and so, by the time the series begins, Ella has also become famous. She owns her own company and lives in a brownstone on Washington Square with her cousin Tommy, the son of the aunt who brought her up. Tommy, a former champion boxer, is a closeted gay man who manages her career and helps her fend off unwelcome admirers.
This charming second novel in Mia Manasala’s standout new series is as delectable as the first. Instead of being set in the main character, Lila’s, aunt’s restaurant, it’s set in the world of a small town beauty pageant. Lila, a former winner turned business owner, is now a reluctant judge. Manansala takes several typically cozy tropes and slightly tweaks them. There’s a bit of a romantic triangle for Lila; there’s a new business she’s setting up with her two best friends, the Brew-Ha café; and then there’s the beauty pageant to provide a rich array of suspects for the eventual murder.
A Counterfeit Suitor is the fifth in the Rosalind Thorne series of Regency mysteries by Darcie Wilde (a pseudonym for Sarah Zettel). Rosalind is a gentlewoman living in reduced circumstances after her father–an alcoholic, gambler, and forger–left England to escape his debts and avoid criminal charges for forging promissory notes. He had taken Rosalind’s sister Charlotte to Paris with him, while Rosalind and her mother stayed in England. Her mother has died since these events took place, a few years before the beginning of the series, and Charlotte has become a courtesan. To support herself, Rosalind solves problems for gentlewomen in trouble, to avoid family scandals. Usually, that means investigating murders with the help of her love interest, handsome Bow Street Runner Adam Harkness.
This is the fifth installment in Andrea Penrose’s Wrexford and Sloane series, set in London in the early 1800’s. In each novel, Penrose folds in some sort of scientific discovery, and in this one, the discovery involves a cure for malaria, a huge problem at the time. Set in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Penrose also includes some real-life scientists (read her interesting author’s note), while at the same time creating an exciting adventure and a bit of romance.
When the series opened, Lady Charlotte Sloane was a widow who had slipped into her late husband’s career as a satiric artist. She works anonymously, often causing a stir when her work is published in the paper. She assists her now fiancée, Lord Wrexford in investigations. As the book opens, he is introducing her to society at a huge gathering at the Botanical Garden as his future bride. Unfortunately, a dead body is discovered during the course of the evening, and Wrexford, a now well known amateur sleuth, is called in for advice.
The fifth novel in Anna Lee Huber’s Verity Kent series finds Verity surprised by the appearance of her German great aunt, Ilse. She’s surprised for one thing because it’s 1919, and in England, Germans weren’t especially beloved; and for another, she knows her aunt is elderly and fragile and wonders why she’s made the arduous journey to her niece’s side.
The two have always been close, and during the war, when Verity worked for British Intelligence, she even placed a German deserter at her aunt’s home for a time. Verity is still wracked with guilt over this. Her aunt has appeared with a new and beautiful young maid, as her long time maid has died of the Spanish flu.
The sparkling fourth installment to Dianne Freeman’s insanely enjoyable Frances, Lady Harleigh series finds the intrepid Frances on the verge of marriage to her beloved George, only to discover, practically on the eve of her wedding, that George’s wife has appeared. Of course, it’s a misunderstanding, but the social damage is done. Irena, the woman making the claim, appears not only demented but in danger, as she’s been receiving threatening letters.
Murder at Keyhaven Castle is the third book in Clara McKenna’s Stella and Lyndy mysteries, set in the New Forest area of England in 1905. I had not read the two previous books, but McKenna gives the reader enough background that I had no problem getting into the book, and I enjoyed it so much that it made me want to read the others.
Stella Kendrick is the daughter of a wealthy horse farmer from Kentucky. Her overbearing, social-climbing father, who had never shown her any love, had taken her to England, ostensibly to buy horses, but really to marry her off to Viscount “Lyndy” Lyndhurst. Lyndy’s aristocratic family has lost their fortune. I was never sure exactly why, and that was probably explained in the earlier books, but it is suggested that Lyndy’s father wasted the family’s money. Stella’s father wants the social connections an aristocratic title would bring. Needless to say, neither of the young people was consulted at the time their fathers planned their engagement. Luckily for them, they fall in love with each other, even though Lyndy’s snobbish, traditionally-minded parents disapprove of Stella’s unconventional ways. Stella and Lyndy share a love of horses and, as it turns out, crime solving.
This is the second in Kathleen Kalb’s delightful series about opera star Ella Shane, who is working in New York City in 1899. She and her cousin Tom run an opera company and live agreeably together in a large brownstone with Ella’s parrot, Montezuma. These books have a really vivacious quality, matching Miss Ella’s own. Not only is Ella a working woman in 1899, she sings men’s parts – she’s what was known as a “trouser diva”.
Her first nights tend to be problematic, however. In the first book, as she sang Romeo to her Juliet, Juliet was really dead. In this book, though the stage portion of her new show goes perfectly, when she comes off stage she discovers one of her co-stars in his dressing room, covered in blood, a dead man at his feet. The gentle singer is hauled off to the Tombs and Ella tries to wrap her head around his guilt.