A Soupçon of Poison by Jennifer Ashley

  • Title:  A Soupçon of Poison
  • Series:  Kat Holloway Mysteries, #.5
  • Author:  Jennifer Ashley
  • Genre:  Historical Mystery
  • Pages:  89
  • Published:  December 2015 – JA/JG Publishing
  • Source:  Purchased

Description:  London, 1880

Kat Holloway, highly sought-after young cook to the wealthy of London, finds herself embroiled in murder when she’s accused of poisoning her employer, the loathsome Sir Lionel Leigh-Bradbury. Her only help as she works to clear her name comes from the mysterious Daniel McAdam, a handsome man-of-all-work who seems to know everyone and always happens to be in the right place at the right time. Kat and Daniel investigate the crime, but the mystery of Daniel’s background might be just as elusive and dangerous as the poisoner bent on framing Kat for murder. (publisher)

My take:  Kat Holloway is a talented young cook for the less than desirable Sir Lionel. She won’t stand for his shenanigans though, which apparently he’s not used to. When his demise is pinned on her she is forced to find the real culprit. Luckily she has help from the mysterious Mr. Daniel McAdam and his son. There’s definitely some chemistry where Kat and Daniel are concerned. She’s determined to ignore the attraction given her prior history with men. He’s amused by her and enchanted by her cooking. Their relationship will grow in this series, I’m sure of it. Just as I’m sure they’ll solve whatever mystery comes their way. A fun introduction to a new series.


 

Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser

  • Title:  Not That I Could Tell
  • Author:  Jessica Strawser
  • Genre:  Mystery
  • Pages:  320
  • Publication date:  March 27, 2018 – St. Martin’s Press
  • Source:  Publisher, NetGalley

Description:  An innocent night of fun takes a shocking turn in Not That I Could Tell, the next page-turner from Jessica Strawser.

When a group of neighborhood women gathers, wine in hand, around a fire pit where their backyards meet one Saturday night, most of them are just ecstatic to have discovered that their baby monitors reach that far. It’s a rare kid-free night, and they’re giddy with it. They drink too much, and the conversation turns personal.

By Monday morning, one of them is gone.

Everyone knows something about everyone else in the quirky small Ohio town of Yellow Springs, but no one can make sense of the disappearance. Kristin was a sociable twin mom, college administrator, and doctor’s wife who didn’t seem all that bothered by her impending divorce—and the investigation turns up more questions than answers, with her husband, Paul, at the center. For her closest neighbor, Clara, the incident triggers memories she thought she’d put behind her—and when she’s unable to extract herself from the widening circle of scrutiny, her own suspicions quickly grow. But the neighborhood’s newest addition, Izzy, is determined not to jump to any conclusions—especially since she’s dealing with a crisis of her own.

As the police investigation goes from a media circus to a cold case, the neighbors are forced to reexamine what’s going on behind their own closed doors—and to ask how well anyone really knows anyone else.  (publisher)

My take:  It’s a mystery to her neighbors what exactly happened to Kristin and her young twins. The night before all the neighbor women were enjoying a rare night “out” around a backyard fire-pit and the next day Kristin and her kids had disappeared. Each woman will examine her own version of what transpired as they, along with the local PD, try to solve the mystery.

The background of each neighbor is examined. This sometimes had me hoping the pace would step up a bit but the author held it steady as the plot unfolded. There were times, interactions at the local school – to name one, when I laughed. Relatable kernels of real life I guess. It really seemed like more of a character study for most of the novel until things revved up near the end. I’m ok with that and smiled as I turned the last page. I enjoyed Jessica Strawser’s style of telling her story and look forward to her next novel.


 

Sunday Post

Book arrivals:  (linked to Mailbox Monday)

    

      

Last week on Bookfan:

   

Reading plan for this week:

 I’m still reading:


 

 

 

Spotlight/US Giveaway: Twist of Faith by Ellen J. Green

Description:

When family secrets are unearthed, a woman’s past can become a dangerous place to hide…

After the death of her adoptive mother, Ava Saunders comes upon a peculiar photograph, sealed and hidden away in a crawl space. The photo shows a shuttered, ramshackle house on top of a steep hill. On the back, a puzzling inscription: Destiny calls us.

Ava is certain that it’s a clue to her elusive past. Twenty-three years ago, she’d been found wrapped in a yellow blanket in the narthex of the Holy Saviour Catholic Church—and rescued—or so she’d been told. Her mother claimed there was no more to the story, so the questions of her abandonment were left unanswered. For Ava, now is the time to find the roots of her mother’s lies. It begins with the house itself—once the scene of a brutal double murder.

When Ava enlists the help of the two people closest to her, a police detective and her best friend, she fears that investigating her past could be a fatal mistake. Someone is following them there. And what’s been buried in Ava’s nightmares isn’t just a crime. It’s a holy conspiracy.


About the author:

Ellen J. Green was born and raised in Upstate New York. She moved to Philadelphia to attend Temple University, where she earned her degrees in psychology. She has worked in a maximum security correctional facility in the psychiatric ward for fifteen years. She also holds an MFA degree in creative writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University. The author of The Book of James, Ms. Green lives in southern New Jersey with her two children.


US Giveaway

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The Neighbors by Hannah Mary McKinnon

  • Title:  The Neighbors
  • Author:  Hannah Mary McKinnon
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Pages:  384
  • Publish Date:  March 13, 2018 – MIRA
  • Source:  Publisher; NetGalley

Description:  Abby looks forward to meeting the family who just moved in across the street—until she realizes they’re the one couple who could expose her deepest secrets.

After a night of fun back in 1992, Abby is responsible for a car crash that kills her beloved brother. It’s a mistake she can never forgive, so she pushes away Liam, the man she loves most, knowing that he would eventually hate her for what she’s done, the same way she hates herself.

Twenty years later, Abby’s husband, Nate, is also living with a deep sense of guilt. He was the driver who first came upon the scene of Abby’s accident, the man who pulled her to safety before the car erupted in flames—the man who could not save her brother in time. It’s this guilt, this regret, that binds them together. They understand each other. Or so Nate believes.

In a strange twist of fate, Liam moves into the neighborhood with his own family, releasing a flood of memories that Abby has been trying to keep buried all these years. Abby and Liam, in a complicit agreement, pretend never to have met, yet cannot resist the pull of the past—nor the repercussions of the terrible secrets they’ve both been carrying… (publisher)

My take:  The Neighbors is the story of Abby and Nate and Nancy and Liam who are new neighbors. The remarkable thing about that is Abby and Liam share a past. They knew each other many years ago but don’t let on to their spouses. Both are equally shocked to find themselves living near each other. You can imagine the various directions the plot could go. And it does. So much so that near the end my neck felt sore from all the twists and turns! I kid about my neck but not about the twists and turns. This book has all the makings of a night-time tv drama. As it played out I just shook my head and thought “really?!” That said, if you’re looking for an entertaining read you might want to pick up a copy of The Neighbors. Even though I found it more than a bit far-fetched I looked forward to picking it up each time to see what would happen next.


 

The Wake Up by Catherine Ryan Hyde

  • Title:  The Wake Up
  • Author:  Catherine Ryan Hyde
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Pages:  322
  • Published:  December 2017 – Lake Union Publishing
  • Source:  Publisher

Description:  Something has been asleep in forty-year-old cattle rancher Aiden Delacorte for a long time. It all comes back in a rush during a hunting trip, when he’s suddenly attuned to the animals around him, feeling their pain and fear as if it were his own. But the newfound sensitivity of Aiden’s “wake up” has its price. He can no longer sleepwalk through life, holding everyone at arm’s length. As he struggles to cope with a trait he’s buried since childhood, Aiden falls in love with Gwen, a single mother whose young son bears a burden of his own.

Sullen and broken from his experiences with an abusive father, Milo has turned to acting out in violent and rebellious ways. Aiden can feel the boy’s pain, as well as that of his victims. Now he and Milo must sift through their pasts to find empathy with the innocent as well as the guilty, to come to terms with their deepest fears, and to finally discover the compassionate heart of a family. (publisher)

My take:   The Wake Up is a lovely story about family – mostly about a boy and a man both damaged by circumstances out of their control. The setting is a small California cattle ranch where horses are also raised. This novel is full of emotions and people learning how to give others and themselves room to grow. It’s about forgiveness – of oneself and others. The theme of empathy runs through it all. As I turned the last page I felt hopeful and very glad to have started the year with such a good novel.


 

Sunday Post

Book arrivals:  (linked to Mailbox Monday)

     

Since I reviewed the first book in Jennifer Ashley’s Kat Holloway mystery series I thought I’d give readers a heads up on the prequel. Thanks to blogger Patty who tipped me off! If you don’t already follow her blog, you should – I love it!

Last week on Bookfan:

Reading plan for this week:


 

Just Between Us by Rebecca Drake

  • Title:  Just Between Us
  • Author:  Rebecca Drake
  • Genre:  Thriller
  • Pages:  384
  • Published:  January 2018 – St. Martin’s Griffin
  • Source:  Publisher

Description:  Four suburban mothers conspire to cover up a deadly crime in Just Between Us, a heart-stopping novel of suspense by Rebecca Drake.

Alison, Julie, Sarah, Heather. Four friends living the suburban ideal. Their jobs are steady, their kids are healthy. They’re as beautiful as their houses. But each of them has a dirty little secret, and hidden behind the veneer of their perfect lives is a crime and a mystery that will consume them all.

Everything starts to unravel when Alison spots a nasty bruise on Heather’s wrist. She shares her suspicions with Julie and Sarah, compelling all three to investigate what looks like an increasingly violent marriage. As mysterious injuries and erratic behavior mount, Heather can no longer deny the abuse, but she refuses to leave her husband. Desperate to save her, Alison and the others dread the phone call telling them that she’s been killed. But when that call finally comes, it’s not Heather who’s dead. In a moment they’ll come to regret, the women must decide what lengths they’ll go to in order to help a friend.

Just Between Us is a thrilling glimpse into the underbelly of suburbia, where not all neighbors can be trusted, and even the closest friends keep dangerous secrets. You never really know what goes on in another person’s mind, or in their marriage.  (publisher)

My take:  This thriller had a rather slow start for me as the relationships between four friends, moms of young school-age kids, were established. About halfway in it took off like a rocket and didn’t slow down until the last couple of pages. I kind of liked that pace for this type of novel.

I could relate to the friendship that linked the women who wouldn’t know each other if their kids didn’t attend the same school. Happily, that’s pretty much where any similarity to me ended.

You may think you know a person who you see often. We all make assumptions from what we witness in our interactions – but are those assumptions the truth? These friends will find out as life changes abruptly when they act on assumptions. Since it’s a mystery/thriller I won’t go into specifics. If you enjoy domestic thrillers I think you should read Just Between Friends.


About the Author

Rebecca Drake is the author of the novels Don’t Be Afraid, The Next Killing, The Dead Place, which was an IMBA bestseller, and Only Ever You, as well as the short story “Loaded,” which was featured in Pittsburgh Noir. A graduate of Penn State University and former journalist, she is currently an instructor in Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction M.F.A. program. Rebecca lives in Pittsburgh, PA, with her husband and two children.

Author photo credit:  Joseph Mertz

Website: https://www.rebeccadrake.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rebecca.drake.writer/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AuthorRDrake


Praise for JUST BETWEEN US

“A twisty, domestic thriller […] tense, bombshell-laden, and action-packed.” — Publisher’s Weekly

“Female friendships flourish, then falter, under the weight of chance events underlaid by secrecy and deceit […] Drake shows a sure hand in spinning suburban thrillers.” —Booklist

“Fans of Liane Moriarty and B.A. Paris are going to love this twisty, diabolical suburban thriller. Clear your evening, you won’t be able to put it down.” — J.T. Ellison, New York Times bestselling author of Lie to Me

“Rebecca Drake’s Just Between Us is a stunner – a tense, twisty thriller about four ordinary women that begs the question: When a friend is in trouble, and all you want to do is help, how can everything go so terribly wrong?” — Karen Dionne, author The Marsh King’s Daughter

“Rebecca Drake’s Just Between Us is a riveting thriller that reveals the dark heart beating in the middle of American suburbia. Every character in this rich novel has a secret, and the secrets get deeper and darker as the pitch-perfect plot unfolds. This is a stunning story of friendship and the tangled lies that bind four women together. Don’t miss it!” — David Bell, author of Bring Her Home


Spotlight on: The Lost Season of Love and Snow by Jennifer Laam. Plus a US/Canada giveaway

St. Martin’s Griffin; on-sale January 2, 2018

Description:

The unforgettable story of Alexander Pushkin’s beautiful wife, Natalya, a woman much admired at Court, and how she became reviled as the villain of St. Petersburg.

At the beguiling age of sixteen, Natalya Goncharova is stunningly beautiful and intellectually curious. At her first public ball during the Christmas of 1828, she attracts the romantic attention of Russia’s most lauded rebel poet: Alexander Pushkin. Finding herself deeply attracted to Alexander’s intensity and joie de vivre, Natalya is swept up in a courtship and then a marriage full of passion but also destructive jealousies. When vicious court gossip leads Alexander to defend his honor as well as Natalya’s in a duel, he tragically succumbs to his injuries. Natalya finds herself reviled for her perceived role in his death. In her striking new novel, The Lost Season of Love and Snow, Jennifer Laam helps bring Natalya’s side of the story to life with vivid imagination―the compelling tale of her inner struggle to create a fulfilling life despite the dangerous intrigues of a glamorous imperial Court and that of her greatest love.

 


About the author:

JENNIFER LAAM is the author of The Secret Daughter of the Tsar and The Tsarina’s Legacy. She earned her master’s degree in History from Oakland University in Michigan and her bachelor’s degree from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA. She has lived in Los Angeles and the suburbs of Detroit, traveled in Russia and Europe, and worked in education and non-profit development. She currently resides in Northern California.

 

Website: https://jenniferlaam.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jenniferlaam.writer/?ref=bookmarks

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jenlaam?lang=en

 

Discussion Guide: https://images.macmillan.com/folio-assets/discusion-guides/9781250121882DG.pdf


Excerpt:

From The Lost Season of Love and Snow by Jennifer Laam. Copyright © 2017 by the author and reprinted with permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.

________

A man says he will die for you. A woman is taught to lower her gaze and blush before hiding once more behind a silken fan. Men are given to self-aggrandizement, while women flatter egos and keep men tied to this earth. Such is the way of the world, or so I was taught in the days before I gained a reputation as the villain of St. Petersburg.

I know better now.

When a man declares he will die for you, sometimes a woman must take him at his word. For to allow one’s husband to perish on the field of honor is a shameful affair, worse even, than murdering him by your own hand.

The solemn men who gather at our flat fall silent as my husband draws his final breath. A prickly chill, like the first wave of a fever, washes over me as I realize my husband is gone. The sorrow tightens my chest and clamps down, squeezing until I think my body will snap in two. I sway on my feet and believe I will faint. Only the invisible force of my will keeps me upright. Dark blood still seeps from his abdomen and a sharp metallic scent clings to the air.

For two days my husband had been one of the waking dead, suffering a cruel and lingering death. Though I was not present at the duel where he fought to defend my honor, the image of Alexander collapsing, his blood staining the snow crimson, haunts my every thought. I have slid into despair, veering between hysteria and hopelessness, while Alexander’s wound festered and his once vibrant face distorted with agony.

His friends stand in a semicircle around his body, backs erect, mouths set in stern lines, and expressions stoic even as their eyes dampen with tears.

“What a waste,” I hear one of them mutter. “A genius lost over a woman.”

The words echo in my head. I was the wife of a distinguished man of letters, the greatest in our land, and I let his life slip through my fingers. These men suppose I care only for material comforts and romantic diversions and don’t believe I possess the wits about me to appreciate my husband’s talent. Rumormongers have convinced them I love the empty-headed Georges d’Anthès or have fallen prey to the advances of our iron-jawed tsar. They consider my behavior traitorous, as terrible in its own way as if I had joined the ranks of the Napoleonic soldiers who once threatened our very heartland.

I will confess to basking too long in the attention of Georges and even the tsar himself, yet I am no Jezebel, merely human, as vulnerable to flattery as any other creature. Much as I may wish to do so, I cannot change the past. The damage is done. A fresh wave of tears threatens and subsides, as though nothing remains inside me to expel. I wonder how long I will live with the torment of my guilt and the censure of those who claim to love my husband.


US/Canada Giveaway

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Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley

  • Title:  Death Below Stairs
  • Series:  Kat Holloway #1
  • Author:  Jennifer Ashley
  • Genre:  Historical Mystery
  • Pages:  336
  • Published:  January 2018 – Berkley
  • Source:  Publisher; NetGalley

Description:  Beloved young cook Kat Holloway charms readers with her fierce sincerity as she takes on a new position in the household of powerful Lord Rankin.

Kat discovers a slew of odd characters living in the Rankin manor, from a lethargic Lady Rankin to her masculine spinster of a sister, to an eccentric cast of servants, and finally a very lustful, tempestuous Lord Rankin. Even more striking, however, is the trouble brewing in the home, which boils over when Kat’s young assistant is found murdered.
 
As Kat and her friend Daniel McAdam begin covertly investigating the murder, they soon find themselves working against a most daunting scheme – can they manage to escape the trouble they’ve cooked up for themselves?  (publisher)
*
My take:  Every so often I like to read an historical mystery. I like being able to imagine myself living in those circumstances and then go along for the ride of the mystery. In Death Below Stairs author Jennifer Ashley’s main character is the new cook for a prominent Mayfair household. She’s not quite thirty years old and is a bit of a mystery herself. I suspect there’s even more to learn about Mrs. H. in future books.

Death Below Stairs is chock full of interesting characters who fall on one side or the other of  abhorrent (evil) and sympathetic (good). It has its share of eccentrics too – which I loved. And there’s the matter of Daniel McAdam. It seems he has a crush on our Mrs. H. He’s a mystery to her though.

I won’t spoil with plot points and such but I’ll say if you’re looking to try the genre there’s no better time than with this first book in the Kat Holloway series. Kat has me hooked and I look forward to finding out what challenges she, Daniel and their friends face next. Fans of the below stairs goings-on of Downton Abbey or Victoria will surely enjoy the world of Kat Holloway.


First Book of 2018

Happy New Year!

My first book of the year is:

I started reading The Wake Up a couple of days ago and will finish soon. Watch for a review next week.

Thanks to Sheila for hosting First Book again this year. It’s my annual try at taking a selfie 😀 I think I need more practice! At any rate, I wish you all a wonderful year of reading!


Here’s the back cover description of The Wake Up:

From New York Times bestselling author Catherine Ryan Hyde comes a hauntingly emotional novel of how one man’s life changes forever when he rediscovers his ability to feel the pain of others.

Something has been asleep in forty-year-old cattle rancher Aiden Delacorte for a long time. It all comes back in a rush during a hunting trip, when he’s suddenly attuned to the animals around him, feeling their pain and fear as if it were his own. But the newfound sensitivity of Aiden’s “wake up” has its price. He can no longer sleepwalk through life, holding everyone at arm’s length. As he struggles to cope with a trait he’s buried since childhood, Aiden falls in love with Gwen, a single mother whose young son bears a burden of his own.

Sullen and broken from his experiences with an abusive father, Milo has turned to acting out in violent and rebellious ways. Aiden can feel the boy’s pain, as well as that of his victims. Now he and Milo must sift through their pasts to find empathy with the innocent as well as the guilty, to come to terms with their deepest fears, and to finally discover the compassionate heart of a family.