The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne

The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne by Elsa Hart

Lady Cecily Kay, a botanist, is in London in 1703, studying Sir Barnaby Mayne’s collection of botanical illustrations. The amazing collections filling the mansion are a source of fascination for many other collectors, and Lady Cecily joins them on a tour. She is surprised to meet Meacan, a childhood friend who is doing some illustrations for the eccentric Mayne. When Sir Barnaby is found dead in his study at the end of the tour, an unlikely suspect confesses, then flees. Lady Cecily and Meacan investigate, learning more about the society of obsessive collectors. The early 18th century London setting is fascinating, and the mystery is intricately plotted. Readalikes include The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton and The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley. Historical fiction readers looking for an unusual setting will also be interested in this intriguing, absorbing read. I don’t see a connection to Hart’s other historical mysteries, beginning with Jade Dragon Mountain, but I enjoyed them as well.

Brenda

The Other Windsor Girl

The Other Windsor Girl by Georgie Blalock

Princess Margaret is 19 when Vera Strathmore’s cousin Rupert introduces them. Vera, who lost her fiancé in the war, writes romance novels under a pen name and dreams of moving to New York City to write. Swept up in Princess Margaret’s social set, Vera becomes a lady-in-waiting to the temperamental princess. In Blalock’s novel, the princess enjoys dancing, drinking, smoking, flirting, and Captain Peter Townsend. Vera puts her writing dreams on hold indefinitely, and her work for the princess gets more demanding over the years. Viewers of The Crown will be familiar with the plot and setting, but Vera’s viewpoint has both clarity and empathy. A fun, escapist read, with plenty of gorgeous gowns.

Brenda

The Lost Jewels

The Lost Jewels by Kirsty Manning

Long buried treasure. An American historian specializing in jewels, Kate Kirby. Her great-grandmother, Irish immigrant Essie Murphy. An antique pendant worn by Kate’s cousin Bella. All of these, along with a handsome photographer, are linked to the true story of the Cheapside Jewels, over 500 pieces of jewelry buried in a cellar sometime before the Great London Fire of 1666, and uncovered in 1912. They include a diamond from India, an emerald from Columbia, and a cameo of Queen Elizabeth I. Kate and photographer Marcus search for the story of these jewels and find long-hidden secrets of Essie and her sister. A page-turner that’s occasionally bittersweet but ends happily in two time periods, this is a good readalike for historical novels by Beatriz Williams, Kate Morton, and Fiona Davis.

Brenda

A Royal Affair

A Royal Affair by Allison Montclair

I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful mystery, a sequel to The Right Sort of Man. Widowed Gwen Bainbridge and former intelligence operative Iris Sparks run The Right Sort Marriage Bureau, where their diverse talents make them successful matchmakers in post World War II London. When Gwen’s cousin asks for help in vetting a suitor for Princess Elizabeth, the adventures begin. Wonderfully witty dialogue, appealingly complex characters, and lots of action scenes put this mystery on my list of sure bets for summer reading. A July 28 publication date is planned.

Brenda

A Useful Woman

A Useful Woman by Darcie Wilde

This is the engaging first book in a mystery series set during the Regency period in London. In 1817, a few years after her family’s fortunes changed for the worse, Rosalind Thorne lives on the fringes of London society as a personal secretary for fashionable ladies, helping to organize events, shop, and plan debuts for young ladies. When Rosalind’s godmother, Lady Blanchard, is late leaving a meeting with the other patronesses of Almack’s Assembly Rooms, Rosalind finds a body in the ballroom. The dead man’s sister asks Rosalind to look into his death, along with Adam Harkness, a Bow Street Runner. A former beau reappears in Rosalind’s life, and she must balance uncovering secrets with keeping her good reputation. A pleasantly diverting read, followed by A Purely Private Matter, then And Dangerous to Know, which I plan to add to my reading list. All of these titles are available from Media on Demand, our Overdrive/Libby collection. A fourth book is expected in November.

Brenda

The Case of the Wandering Scholar

The Case of the Wandering Scholar by Kate Saunders

While this is the second book in the Laetitia Rodd series, this is an excellent place to begin this thoroughly enjoyable Victorian mystery series. Laetitia is a middle-aged widow of an archdeacon, and sister to Fred, a criminal barrister. Fred occasionally finds Laetitia assignments as a discreet private investigator. She moves in a variety of society circles, has a wide acquaintance among the clergy, and can certainly use the money. A dying man is looking to be reconciled with his brother Joshua, once a scholar at Oxford, who now wanders the countryside. Mrs. Rodd’s search becomes tangled with a series of murders and a long-ago theft. When two young friends are arrested for murder, Laetitia investigates, along with the gruff Inspector Blackbeard. 1851 London and Oxford really come to life, the mystery is intricately plotted, and Laetitia is absolutely wonderful company. I look forward to her next assignment. The first book is The Secrets of Wishtide.

Brenda

 

Royal Holiday

Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory

This is a fun, frothy contemporary romance, a very appealing read. Social worker Vivian Forest accompanies her daughter Maddie to England for a December vacation after Maddie gets a chance to be stylist to a young duchess for the Christmas season. Vivian meets Malcolm, the Queen’s private secretary, and he gives her a tour of the Sandringham estate, takes her riding, and the pair exchange notes delivered by footmen. Vivian is very down-to-earth, funny and considerate. Malcolm is a bit more formal and private, but is clearly smitten by Vivian. It’s so refreshing to have the main characters in a contemporary romance be in their fifties. The Sandringham and London settings make an amazing frame for the slightly predictable story so that the reader can enjoy armchair travel along with a joyful but not steamy romance. What Anglophile wouldn’t enjoy a private museum tour, or getting to park inside the gates at Buckingham Palace? What will happen when Vivian goes back to California with the possibility of a job promotion? Sadly, no scone recipe is included, but all the other ingredients for a perfect holiday read are there, from helping pick out a dress for the duchess to fireworks over the Thames River. Enjoy!

Brenda

The Sentence is Death

The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz

In this very clever mystery, private investigator Daniel Hawthorne summons writer Tony Horowitz to a house on the edge of Hampstead Heath where a divorce lawyer has been killed with an expensive bottle of wine in the sequel to The Word is Murder. Horowitz is supposed to editing a tv script for Foyle’s War, but instead is playing Watson to Hawthorne’s Holmes as he tries to solve the mystery before Hawthorne or the threatening Inspector Grunshaw. Three cavers, a single mom, an art gallery owner, and a successful poet are all connected to the victim, Richard Pryce. Horowitz, with a book contract to write about Hawthorne, is quickly in over his head, getting in trouble at a bookstore, persuaded to attend a book club where no one wants his opinion on the mystery being discussed, and stumped by false leads on why the number 182 is painted on the wall near Pryce. Suspenseful, intriguing, and occasionally funny, with an excellent audiobook narration by Rory Kinnear; I found this a very compelling read.

Brenda

A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder

A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder by Dianne Freeman

After widowed Mary Archer is killed in London in the summer of 1899, Frances mentions that her late husband’s cousin Charles had been courting Mary, making him a suspect. Frances teams up with handsome neighbor George and young family friend Lottie to investigate Mary’s death in this lively sequel to A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder. Frances, Lady Harleigh, is shocked to learn that Mary was a gossip columnist and possibly a blackmailer. The off season in London has rarely been so exciting. Suggested for Regency or Victorian romance readers who enjoy cozy mysteries, or fans of Elizabeth Peters or Deanna Raybourn. Witty and delightful, this is a charming Victorian mystery with some humor and a hint of romance.

Brenda

Goodnight from London

Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson

In June, 1940, Ruby Sutton, a young reporter in New York City, accepts an assignment to report on the war from London at Picture Weekly magazine. Ruby, as an American, brings a fresh perspective to stories of home front England and the Blitz, mentored by veteran photographer Mary Buchanan and editor Kaz. Ruby is befriended by Captain Bennett, who has a secret wartime job; a romance seems likely. Over the next few years, Ruby, raised in an orphanage, finds a new family and home in London. A very compelling read, there are naturally some poignant scenes, but this is more heartwarming than many novels set during the war. If you’re in the mood for an excellent historical novel with memorable characters, this is a sure bet. For more about Ruby, Kaz, and Bennett, read The Gown, which we’re discussing Tuesday night at the library. Readalikes include books by Jennifer Ryan, Lissa Evans, Beatriz Williams, and AJ Pearce.
Brenda