Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What I Read in December 2015 Part II

What I Read in December 2015 Part II ...

Death Comes to Kurland St. Mary (Kurland St. Mary Mystery #3) by Beverly Butler--Regency mystery/romance

Death Comes To Kurland Hall (Kurland St. Mary Mystery, #3)
Lucy has returned home to Kurland St. Mary to assist with her friend Sophia's wedding. It should be a joyful time but Lucy can't help but feel down. She's not speaking to Robert after his appalling proposal and she's tired of managing everything in her father's home. She'd gladly hand over the reins to someone else. When Lucy's wish is about to come true, she knows in her heart her father has made a dreadful mistake. How could he marry Mrs. Chingsford, a nosy, nasty, gossiping woman and former future mother-in-law to Robert. Robert fails to see where he went wrong with Lucy and he misses her. He has his hands full preparing for his best friend's wedding breakfast and housing guests in addition to trying to get the estate up and running again. Thankfully his new estate manager, Mr. Fairfax, is highly competent. Despite being in the midst of wedding preparations, Robert graciously allows Mr. Fairfax's feather's widow to come visit. It seems Mrs. Fairfax isn't unknown to at least one of the guests and Mrs. Chingsford is on the verge of revealing a scandal when Lucy discovers the woman in a heap at he womanthe bottom of the stairs - dead. The doctor can't tell if Mrs. C died from the fall or if someone assisted her in death after the fall. Her younger daughter seems frightened of something or someone but won't tell anyone what she saw. While Dorothea's sister tries to work on her, Lucy and Robert once again team up to find out who killed Mrs. Chingsford. When someone else ends up dead, Lucy and Robert have their work cut out for them to fit together the pieces of the puzzle and solve the mystery before someone else ends up dead.

I thought I guessed who the murderer was right away. The author has a pattern I noticed in the previous two books and based on that, I was so certain I was right - until the investigation. There were so many suspects, so many complications that I was positive I was wrong. Every time I suspected the person I initially believed to be the murderer, nothing bad happened so I guessed again... and again. I thought perhaps there might be two killers - one accidental and one on purpose. Naturally I had to stay up late to see where the plot went! I didn't finish before I was ready to fall asleep and woke up early to read the last 40 pages or so. I was certainly surprised at some of the secrets that were revealed but not entirely. The author's downfall is in reusing tropes that are commonly found in period novels. I was a little surprised by how it all came together and what they chose to do about it.

I was highly satisfied with the relationship aspect of this novel. FINALLY we get some action! Robert and Lucy have danced around their feelings way too long and Robert's abysmal handling of their partnership in London didn't help matters much. I was beginning to despair that these two would ever get together. I could have used a bit more romance at the end but I liked it well enough.

If I talk about the new characters, it may or may not spoil the story so I'll try to be brief. There are several new characters in this book and some returning characters. Sophia and her new husband appear briefly and don't really add to the story. Sophia's sister acts like a silly teenager. She may be a spinster with one last chance at marriage but at her age she should know better. Her beau is a stereotypical bad boy with a surprise identity. Also new here is Mr. Fairfax, a very kind and conscientious man who I liked very much. His father's wife, Mrs. Fairfax, is a young, grieving widow. I felt bad for her. Dorothea Chingsford appears in this novel, I believe, for the first time. She's very different from Penelope, very young and I was kept guessing as to her role in the plot. Penelope here is more confident and mature than she was previously. Away from her mother she's actually somewhat likable. Mrs. Chingsford is a dreadful, awful woman but at the same time I felt sorry that she had to stoop to gossip in order to support her family. The underlying message of this novel is that life was extraordinarily difficult for women at this time, which is something we tend to forget when reading Austen and Heyer. This novel is set in a more realistic world where women without money and without homes of their own have to make do the best they can.

I really enjoyed this trilogy and hope the author has more Regency mysteries in store.

Uneasy Spirits (A Victorian San Francisco Mystery #2) by M. Louisa Locke-- Historical mystery

Uneasy Spirits (A Victorian San Francisco Mystery, #2) When Annie Fuller is approached by one of her boarders, Miss Pinehurst, to investigate the doings of a spiritualist couple, Simon and Arabella Frampton because surely Annie being in a similar professional will know all the tricks. Annie bristles at the idea of being like those fraudulent mediums but Miss Pinehurst is worried about the sanity of her beloved younger sister and the bank balance of her brother-in-law. Following the death of her young son Charlie, Miss Pinehurst's sister became involved in spiritualism and is convinced she speaks to the spirit of her son who resides and grows in "Summerland." Annie thinks the investigation will be quick and easy but the Framptons are really good at hiding their tricks. Then Annie's maid, Kathleen, tells the Framptons associates a story about how Annie lost a 2 year old son, Johnny and is secretly weeping every night and not sleeping. This story earns Annie a trip to the cabinet to meet the eerie child medium Evie May. What Annie discovers in the cabinet shocks and surprises her. She isn't sure what to think. Annie feels protective of Evie May and is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery for the sake of the poor child and the deluded people who believe Evie May is the spirit of their departed family members. She enlists the aid of Nate Dawson to investigate the backgrounds of some of the other attendees of the Framptons' seances. Nate hopes his new connections will give him the in he needs to earn enough money to support a wife. He's certain about his feelings for Annie and doesn't like her messing around with potentially dangerous criminals. He longs to protect her - if only she'd let him.

Wow this plot was a lot different than I expected it to be. Like Annie I figured it would be easy to figure out what was going on but the story opens with a murder and early on introduces the reader to the strange child Evie May. I never would have guessed who the "bad man" was if I hadn't skipped ahead and read the end first. I NEVER do that but I was so curious about Evie May that I had to know what was going on. In some ways I was frustrated because I didn't get the answers I was hoping for but in other ways I feel like the author handled the situation well leaving it ambiguous. I was thinking dissociative identity disorder, but it could have been that she was channeling spirits. It seemed like she was being mesmerized into portraying the deceased, but that doesn't explain Eddie/Edmund, Maybelle and Miss Evelyn. Like Annie, I was worried about the child and hoped everything would turn out well for her.

The mystery kept me guessing as to who murdered the old lady and who the bad man was. I never would have guessed either. The first I had narrowed down to two suspects when it was revealed. I wouldn't have guessed at all what the connection was and why until Annie discovered the final piece of the puzzle. I was completely surprised by what was revealed.

The relationship plot was great. I like the tenderness Nate shows towards Annie and how she lights up when she's with him. I appreciated the realistic aspects of their relationships. They don't know each other well outside of their investigations and the conclusions Annie comes to are very valid and realistic. I hope for a little more kissing in the next volume though!

The characters of the people who inhabit the boarding house are wonderful. I especially like Beatrice and the Boston Terrier Dandy. Kathleen is a lot of fun and it's nice to see her mature. The new characters include Kathleen's friend Biddy who is maid to the Framptons. I liked her but thought she talked too much for her own safety. The Framptons are awful people yet they have good points too. They're not two-dimensional typical spiritualists. Simon seems weak. I think Arabella is the dominant partner. Aside from the strange girl Evie May, there's also her mother who is a terrible mother to allow her daughter to be subjected to whatever it is she's been though and is going through. Then there's Anthony Pierce, an ambitious newspaper reporter who once did a story exposing fraudulent mediums. I read ahead so I knew his story already. I'm not sure I would have trusted him if I were Nate, at least not once he introduced me to a bunch of sleazy politicians. I liked how he served to introduce some history into the plot without stepping out of the story and how he had the potential to advance the romance.

In this story there are hints of sexual abuse and child neglect. If you are sensitive about children having gone through trauma, don't read this story.

I really enjoyed it and hope to read the next 2 volumes in the series.

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