My Lady Jane

My Lady Jane

by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

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The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane is about to become the Queen of England.

Sorry for the brief review hiatus everyone. I’ve been a little under the weather lately, which means much more reading and tv watching than reviewing. Anyways, I first heard about My Lady Jane from a number of BookTubers that I follow, and decided to give it a go for a couple of reasons: 1. historical fiction is a genere that is not often discussed on BookTube and I was surprised to see this novel keep popping up, and 2. everyone kept talking about how funny it was and I can’t say no to a good laugh!

So, a brief synopsis. My Lady Jane presents a very loosely historic recount of the life of Jane Grey and her limited term (9 days) as the queen of England. It’s definitely loosely historical as there is a magical element that definitely makes this a fantasy read as well. But don’t worry; the authors warn readers with a disclaimer on the very first page. 

Don’t let the fantasy element discourage you from reading My Lady Jane. The authors do a wonderful job of creating a detailed and engaging setting which left me feeling as I was running for my life along with the characters. The adventure is fast paced, but the love story of Jane and G progressed at a wonderfully realistic pace. No insta-love here folks, which I’m sure we will all find refreshing. And I absolutely adored our heroine, Jane. She is complicated, stubborn, passionate, awkward, and driven by her love of books. She is unapologetically herself! 

Now, I’ll reiterate that My Lady Jane is not historically accurate, but you are made aware of this point through out the story thanks to hilarious interjections by the narrator/authors. This gives it a fireside story telling atmosphere that more serious readers may not appreciate. I do also have to point out that many of the secondary characters and aspects of the plot felt a little under developed. This was  definitely evident when looking at G’s hobbies and the whole last quarter of the book. I would like to provide specific details, but I know y’all don’t like spoilers.

I heard a number of reviews describing this novel as hilarious. Did I find it hilarious? Yeah, it was pretty darn funny and had a delightfully honest tone that embraced teenage sexual awkwardness without all the tedious angst that is typical of young adult literature. It is fun, and very different which is why I recommend it for readers, especially those in need of a break from serious topics and prose.

Have you read My Lady Jane? Let me know what you thought!

Lindsay

Murder on the Ballarat Train

Murder on the Ballarat Train

by Kerry Greenwood

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When the 1920s’ most glamorous lady detective, the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, arranges to go to Ballarat for the week, she eschews the excitement of her red Hispano-Suiza racing car for the sedate safety of the train. The last thing she expects is to have to use her trusty Beretta .32 to save lives. As the passengers sleep, they are poisoned with chloroform.

Phryne is left to piece together the clues after this restful country sojourn turns into the stuff of nightmares: a young girl who can’t remember anything, rumors of white slavery and black magic, and the body of an old woman missing her emerald rings. Then there is the rowing team and the choristers, all deliciously engaging young men. At first they seem like a pleasant diversion….

I think it is safe to say that I am officially hooked on the Phryne Fisher Mystery Series! Murder on the Ballarat Train is the third novel in this mystery series (check out the reviews for Cocaine Blues and Flying too High) and the scene opens with Phryne and Dot on a train bound for the town of Ballarat. Phryne awakens to the overwhelming stench of chloroform filling the first class car and barely manages to flush the fumes before being overcome with by its effects. The spunky young detective is too insulted at the attack to let the culprit go unpunished and soon she is up to her neck investing the murder of a cruel woman, the identity of a lost little girl, and the truth behind a certain sex trade operation.

Honestly folks, Greenwood’s writing improves with each novel. I will admit that Murder on the Ballarat Train does start slow, but the pace picks up after the first few chapters. The plot flows together seamlessly, and we get a better glimpse of Phyrne’s ‘devil may care’ side. Her character development is progresses with each novel and it almost feels as if you are slowly getting to know a new friend. We get to see Dot excel in her quiet strength, and learn even more about Phyne’s go to street men, Burt and Cec. Plus, we are provided a couple of interesting mysteries that twist and flow together perfectly.

Like Cocaine Blues, Murder on the Ballarat Tran was turned in to an episode for the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries tv show (which can be found on Netflix). So fans of the tv show will know who-dunnit well before the reveal of the killer, but this didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the story. Murder on the Ballarat Train was just a fun read, and the Phyrne Fisher Mystery Series has quickly become my go-to when I am in need a fun, historical murder mystery. Is anyone else a fan yet!?

Lindsay

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe

by Robert Goldsborough

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To become part of the Nero Wolfe legend, Archie Goodwin must prove his worth

Archie Goodwin comes to New York City hoping for a bit of excitement. In his third week working as a night watchman, he stops two burglars in their tracks—with a pair of hot lead slugs. Dismissed from his job for being “trigger-happy,” he parlays his newfound notoriety into a job as a detective’s assistant, helping honest sleuth Del Bascom solve cases like the Morningside Piano Heist, the Rive Gauche Art Gallery Swindle, and the Sumner-Hayes Burglary. But it’s the kidnapping of Tommie Williamson, the son of a New York hotel magnate, that introduces Goodwin to the man who will change his life. Young Tommie has gone missing, and only one detective is built for the job: Nero Wolfe, the heavyset genius of West Thirty-Fifth Street. Together they will form one of the most unlikely crime fighting duos in history—but first Goodwin must find Tommie Williamson, and prove to Wolfe that he deserves a place by his side.

So, if you’ve read my blog in the past, you will know that I absolutely adore the Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout. I was first introduced to the characters through the A&E TV series, A Nero Wolfe Mystery, starring Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin. The series was unique in that the same ensemble of guest actors were utilized to play characters in each episode, in a similar style to the traditional theatre troupe. This tv series led to me picking up the novels, and I have shared reviews for both The Black Orchids and Cordially Invited to Meet Death. It is safe to say that I am a Nero Wolfe fan! So, I didn’t hesitate to pick up Archie Meets Nero Wolfe: A Prequel to Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe Mysteries. I have read this novel a number of times, and as I consider it one of my favorites, I decided it was in desperate need of a reread. I still enjoy the story, but sadly I no longer consider it one of my favorites. So let’s get in to the review.

The story is about how Archie Goodwin meets Nero Wolfe, and his journey to becoming the famous detective’s right hand man. Archie has just moved to New York City, and doesn’t last a month at his first job because he’s too deadly with a gun. He takes up as an assistant for gum-shoe, Del Bascom, and discovers there is more to being a detective than what he reads in his favorite dime novels. But not surprisingly, Archie is a natural, and his success on small cases lands him on a crew of detectives working for Nero Wolfe and investigating the kidnapping of young Tommie Williamson.

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe is longer than the short novel style of the original Rex Stout stories, but stays true to the form in that it is told from Archie’s point of view. This style of narrative pulls the reader into the story and gives you an intimate understanding of both Archie and the investigation. The mystery is unique enough to keep the reader involved, with a good steady pacing that pulls you along as the clues unfold. Goldsborough does an excellent job capturing Archie’s charismatic yet headstrong personality, and he accurately presents favorite staple characters, such as Inspector Cramer, Fred Durkin, and Saul Panzer. I had no problem picturing each of them as they stalk through New York City on the trail of the kidnappers. It is a great mystery with a nice crew of quirky characters.

But, there are a couple of things that made me take Archie Meets Nero Wolfe off my ‘favorite books’ list. The first is the story is good if you are already a fan of the original series. Though I felt Goldsborough captured the essence of most of the characters, I would have been a little disappointed in the character development if I didn’t already know who these men were. The mystery is great, but the character development requires previous knowledge of the players. The second is I was disappointed in was the lack of banter between Archie and Wolfe. Sure, I understand that this is just the beginning of their association and the two haven’t had a chance to establish their snarky relationship, but it left Nero Wolfe feeling flat. We don’t see him get flustered. We don’t hear the snark behind his comments. We don’t get to hear one single ‘Phooey!’ Those are things that endear readers to Nero Wolfe, and I definitely noticed that something was missing.

I wouldn’t recommend Archie Meets Nero Wolfe as an intro to the eccentric detective. Read The Black Orchids, watch the tv show, and then come back to this story because you can appreciate it once you actually know the characters.

So, is anyone else a Nero Wolfe fan? Let me know which mystery is your favorite!

Lindsay

2017 Reading Goals

Hey everyone! Yes, I know the first month of 2017 has come and gone, but its better late than never when it comes to sharing my reading goals for the year.

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History and Mystery is dedicated to providing reviews on nonfiction and historical fiction books. I decided to change the platform from the original Sand Between the Pages, where I reviewed everything, to a site that focuses on my love of all things history. Now, I will admit that I was very burned out on nonfiction after finishing grad school. Sadly, dry tedious academic style writing had taken its toll, and I found myself shying away from everything nonfiction. But all of that is going to change!

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My one reading goal for 2017 is to read and review 12 nonfiction books. Out of those 12, I have picked five that I must read for 2017. These are:

Descent Into Darkness: Pearl Harbor 1941: A Navy Diver’s Memoir

A Man on the Moon

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic

Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography

In other news, I have started a new Instagram dedicated to this book review site, so please check that out here. I have recently started a personal blog, Finding Adventure, where I talk about a variety of stuff, including my other hobbies. And, I am still trying to get the guts to start a BookTube channel. I’ll be honest, that has to be the hardest on this list. So wish me luck!

What are your 2017 goals? Do you have specific books that you plan to read this year? Please share them with me, because I’m excited to hear about them.

Lindsay

Last of the Breed

Last of the Breed

by Louis L’Amour

Last of the Breed

After U.S. Air Force Major Joe Mack is forced down in Russia and later escapes from a Soviet prison camp, he calls upon the skills of his Sioux Indian forebears to evade Alekhin, the Yakut native and legendary tracker, on his trail.

My husband loves to learn about basic survival skills; I enjoy reading survival stories.  We both want to be prepared to live in ‘the wild’ if we must.  We aren’t doomsday preppers or anything, but we do fly small airplanes and live in an area frequented by hurricanes.  Things could happen, and these survival stories are for educational purposes!  Louis L’amour’s Last of the Breed is the one story that I just can not stop reading.  I have read it between 5 to 10 times in the last 13 years and each time I am riveted!

Joe Mack is a Sioux who is also a test pilot for the Air Force.  He is captured by the Russians and brought to Siberia for interrogation.  Joe Mack refuses to remain a prisoner and he quickly escapes.  But he now much survive a Siberian winter and it will require all his military and ancestral training to make it out alive.  (Now I want to start reading it again!)

Last of the Breed was originally published in 1986 and the writing style is somewhat different than current publications.  The language is often more telling than showing, which requires a vivid imagination to fill in all the glorious details.  Luckily, I have one of those, but many reviews complain that the novel drags on because of it.  L’Amour also has a tendency to repeat himself…a lot.  I blame the editing process because this should have been fixed before publication.  The only time it bugged me was when the next sentence would be a reworded copy of the previous sentence.  That is an editing issue.

Don’t let this deter you because the story is great!  I am enthralled by Joe Mack and his journey across Siberia.  Plus, L’Amour provides an interesting cast of supporting characters for you to both love and hate.  I hold my breath as Talya and her father rush to the Chinese border.  I whisper “yes!” each time Joe Mack escapes; and I curse Alekhin as he hunts Joe Mack down.  But, this is more than a story of sheer survival.  L’Amour also describes the mental strain of surviving and living on the run.  These passages left me with goose-bumps as the fear of being hunted courses through me while Alekhin closes in on Joe Mack.  I know how the story ends, but that doesn’t matter.  I feel like I am there in Siberia every time I open this book.

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Last of the Breed will always be one of my favorites and I plan to keep rereading it.  I mean, just look at my personal copy!  Why hasn’t it been made in to a movie?!  Anyways, happy survival reading everyone😛

Lindsay

Murder on Santa Claus Lane

Murder on Santa Claus Lane

by William G Bogart

Murder on Santa Claus Lane

G-Men Detective, January 1943
MURDER ON SANTA CLAUS LANE
by William G. Bogart

With a Blackout in Hollywood, Rookie Patrol Car Cop Johnny Regan Does Some X-Ray Work to See Through Crime!

Murder on Santa Claus Lane combines two of my typical December reading trends: Christmas mystery and crime noir/pulp fiction.  My love for Nero Wolfe has me slowly branching out to similar noir pieces and I found this short story through Barnes and Noble.  Murder on Santa Claus Lane has been publish in e-book format by Peril Press, an independent publisher based in Portland, and was initially printed in the January 1943 issue of the G-Men Detective Magazine.  This publication featured ‘G-Men’ crime stories and was produced from 1935 to 1953.  William G Bogart was a prolific crime novelist who worked on the Doc Savage novels. (Note: Limited research was involved so please feel free to correct me if I am wrong!)

Johnny Regan is a rookie patrol cop in Hollywood.  He is stuck working the streets over the Christmas holidays and is disappointed that air raids have the city blacked out.  He isn’t even able to enjoy the Christmas lights on patrol.  But, all thoughts of holiday cheer are forgotten when he and his partner, Big Ben Slattery, get tangled up in a holiday robbery.

Murder on Santa Claus Lane is a fun short story full of that classic noir flavor.  Regan is a young buck who is headstrong, cocky, and quite fond of shapely blondes.  Big Ben is his always-cheerful mentor.  Together, they scour the less wealthy streets of Hollywood for crime.  The passages just dripped with the raw imagery of the genre.  My imagination put me right there in the middle of the grainy black and white scene as the copper raced to help his cornered partner…  I love this genre!

Surprisingly, the story, and characters, are just a tad too flat for me.  Bogart was missing some essential descriptive language and I was left feeling that this was a short story he pinned for some extra dough and exposure.  I just couldn’t really connect with any of the characters and that is essential for short stories.  You want your readers invested by the end of the first paragraph.  There were a few continuity errors that forced me to re-read parts.  Just small things that left me thinking, “Where in the world did that flashlight come from?”  The story composition was just rough.

Murder on Santa Claus Lane is worth checking out if you are a fan of the genre.  I suggest something a tad bit more polished for those starting out in crime noir.  Hardboiled crime/crime noir is a rugged pulp fiction style that is definitely an acquired taste.  I love it!  The grittiness, clichés, and language push me to read more of the genre.  Any hardboiled crime/crime noir fans out there?  What is your favorite book?

Lindsay

Flying Too High

Flying Too High

by Kerry Greenwood

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Phryne Fisher has her hands full in this, her second adventure. And just when we think she’s merely a brilliant, daring, sexy woman, Phyrne demonstrates other skills, including flying an airplane and doing her own stunts!

Phryne takes on a fresh case at the pleading of a hysterical woman who fears her hot-headed son is about to murder his equally hot-headed father. Phryne, bold as we love her to be, first upstages the son in his own aeroplane at his Sky-High Flying School, then promptly confronts him about his mother’s alarm. To her dismay, however, the father is soon killed and the son taken off to jail. Then a young girl is kidnapped, and Phryne―who will never leave anyone in danger, let alone a child―goes off to the rescue.

Engaging the help of Bert and Cec, the always cooperative Detective-Inspector Robinson, and her old flying chum Bunji Ross, Phryne comes up with a scheme too clever to be anyone else’s, and in her typical fashion saves the day, with plenty of good food and hot tea all around. Meanwhile, Phryne moves into her new home at 221B, The Esplanade, firmly establishes Dot as her “Watson,” and adds two more of our favourite characters, Mr. and Mrs. Butler, to the cast.

Hi everyone! Sorry it’s been a few weeks but you know how crazy it can be around the holidays. So, let’s jump in to my review of Flying Too High to kick off this review week!

Flying Too High is the second book in the Phryne Fisher murder mystery series. Feel free to check out my review for the first story, Cocaine Blues. Phryne is settling in to her new life in Melbourne. She has a new house, a new car, and has established Dot as her official companion. She’s ready to make her name as a lady detective and is ecstatic when she’s brought on to prevent a potential family murder. What follows is a gruesome death, daredevil flying, life threatening stunts, and the resolution of two mysteries. 

As mentioned before, I was first introduced to Phryne and her adventures on the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries tv show, which can be found on Netflix. As such, I had fully expected most of the stories to follow the same plot lines as the tv episodes (something I was totally fine with), but I was pleasantly surprised when Flying Too High offered something new! I won’t provide any details about the mysteries to prevent spoilers, but i can promise Flying Too High provides the same quirky cast of characters, and fast paced antics that can be expected of a Phryne Fisher story. 

I also enjoyed the aviation sequences, which were written quite accurately according to my limited knowledge of post-WWI aircraft designs. Aviation is a hobby of mine, so I appreciate when it is presented realistically. But I have two warn up, there are a few action sequences that are over the top. For those serious readers who would be insulted by such antics…these books are not for you. For everyone else…you’re gonna love it!
Flying Too High was a fun read and I’m ready to pick up the next installment of the series.  It’s perfect for any time you need a quick escape from reality and I highly recommend it if you have a case of the holiday blues.

Let me know what you think! Anyone else love all things Phryne Fisher?!

Lindsay

Cordially Invited to Meet Death

Cordially Invited to Meet Death

by Rex Stout

Cordially Invited to Meet Death: A Nero Wolfe Novella

My synopsis:  Bess Huddleston, an eccentric party planner for New York’s elite, approaches Wolfe with a request; to find the culprit behind letters damaging her image.  Wolfe takes on the case at the promise of a hefty fee, but Huddleston dies of tetanus just days later.  Archie Goodwin is sure it is foul play and pushes Wolfe to search for Huddleston’s murderer.

Cordially Invited to Meet Death is included in The Black Orchids collection.  Black Orchids are a small detail of the story and play an important role for Archie during his investigation.  His statement at the end of the novel is perfect.  It ties everything together but still leaves readers marveling at the mystery that is Nero Wolfe.

I enjoy Cordially Invited to Meet Death because of how the murder is committed.  The scientific nature is just fascinating and is different, as the novella was written long before the mass production of crime investigation shows.  It also perfectly showcases the tumultuous relationship shared by Wolfe and Inspector Cramer.  The two worked together in the last novella I reviewed but this time they are left butting heads.  Cramer insists on throwing his badge and authority at Wolfe who promptly investigates the murder out of spit!  We also get to see the Archie’s frustrations at working with a genius who rarely shares his full thought process.

This is not my favorite novella because of the cast of characters.  Bess Huddleston just irks me, especially with her menagerie of dangerous pets.  I shared Archie’s opinion of Ms. Huddleston’s home.  I personally feel that wild animals should not be pets and that most people who have them as pets don’t even have the ability to train a dog, much less a bear or chimp.  It may seem harsh but I am sure Wolfe would agree with me.  I also wanted to know specific details during the reveal of the murderer, but I can’t go in to that without ruining the story.

Has anyone else read Cordially Invited to Meet Death?  Have I convinced you to check out Nero Wolfe yet?😉

Lindsay

The Black Orchids

The Black Orchids

by Rex Stout

Black Orchids (Nero Wolfe, #9)

It is always a treat to read a Nero Wolfe mystery. The man has entered our folklore”.–The New York Times Book Review. Incomparable sleuth Nero Wolfe and his perennially hardy sidekick, Archie Goodwin, find themselves trying to weed out a garden-variety killer at the annual flower show.

This is my FAVORITE Nero Wolfe story!  I am sitting here grinning from ear to ear because I am so excited to share it with you!  I would be dancing but I’m waiting until I finally get home to do so.

Nero Wolfe is an amateur horticulturist who strictly specializes in orchids.  The entire top floor of his brownstone has been converted to a green house and he spends precisely four hours a day attending to his plants.  The Black Orchids starts with Archie stuck at a Flower Show examining the main exhibit, three rare black orchids, for his boss.  Wolfe eventually ventures out of the brownstone to see the blooms for himself; on the same afternoon a young gardener is found dead in a display.  Wolfe eagerly takes on the case in hopes of adding some new orchids to his ever growing collection.

I love The Black Orchids because it perfectly showcases the dynamic between Wolfe and Archie.  Readers experience Archie’s snarky attitude and his joy at badgering his boss through his narration.  Wolfe’s quirks, including his brash selfishness, are spread out in detail for the readers.  But one of the best parts is getting to experience one of Wolfe’s theatrical who-dunnit’ reveals.

Rex Stout is just gifted.  His prose pulls you through the narrative making you eagerly await the answers.  He delves in to the personalities of most of his characters and I enjoy what he shares of Inspector Cramer and Lewis Hewett.  But be warned; the female characters can read flat.  Wolfe resists interacting with women on the off chance they get hysterical and Archie is more focused on the physical attributes.  But don’t worry; they are not sexist pigs.  Both men enjoy conversing with highly intelligent and independent women so they show up on a regular basis through the series.  Wolfe even verbally spars with two female witnesses in The Black Orchids.

Read it!  I always recommend Rex Stout for those interested in crime noir.  The Nero Wolfe books are not as gritty as most hardboiled crime pieces but I personally enjoy the humorous aspects.  Have you read any Rex Stout?  Which story is your favorite?

Lindsay

Cocaine Blues

Cocaine Blues

by Kerry Greenwood

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Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher solves theft in 1920s London High Season society, and sets her clever courage to poisoning in Melbourne Australia. She – of green eyes, diamant garters and outstanding outfits – is embroiled in abortion, death, drugs, communist cabbies – plus erotic Russian dancer Sasha de Lisse. The steamy end finds them trapped in Turkish baths.

A while back I started watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on Netflix and it didn’t take more than a few episodes for me to be hooked on the show. The music, the costumes, the cars, and of course the amazing Phryne Fisher kept me coming back episode after episode. And then I realized the series was based on the books by Kerry Greenwood, and I had to read a few over my vacation. 

Cocaine Blues is the first book in the series, and the first episode of the show. We are introduced to Miss Fisher, who has a huge personality and an insatiable taste for danger and adventure. We also meet her loyal cast of supporting characters: Dottie, Bert, Cec, Dr. MacMillan, Mr. Butler, and Inspector Jack Robinson. Phryne, who grew up in poverty, has returned to Melbourne as a rich heiress. She has been asked to check on the grown daughter of a family friend, and it’s not long before Phryne is hunting down a butcher abortionist, as well as, the King of Cocaine. 

I love that the show and story as so similar. Sure, I knew who did it, but I was totally fine with that because I felt as if I was rewatching the episode as I read. Already knowing the characters made the story even more enjoyable for me. And there were enough difference between the two mediums to keep me engaged throughout the story. 

Sadly, I did not find the book to be very well written. It lacked the vibrant details that I expected to read after seeing the show. I had hoped to see more setting development; scenes that included the sights, smells, and sounds of the physical background. Thankfully, Greenwood did take time describing the attire of our characters. Normally I could care less about clothing but there is just something about the extravagance of 1920s era clothing that keeps me hooked

Read Cocaine Blues! It is the perfect snarky, fast pace mystery that one needs to get through the stress and bustle of the holiday season. I couldn’t put it down, despite already knowing the outcome, and immediately picked up the second book! 

Are you a fan of Phryne Fisher? What do you love most about the quirky female detective?

Lindsay