Marlowe Benn: Passing Fancies Saturday, May 30 2020 

Marlowe Benn brought readers her first Julia Kydd mystery, Relative Fortunes, and returns with the sequel, Passing Fancies. Set in the 1920s, I had the opportunity to speak with Benn about her books and their fascinating look at the era she’s chosen to delve into:

Auntie M: This is your second book set in the 1920s and your research is extensive, from manners to the clothing and food. What drew you to this era?

Marlowe Benn: First let me say thank you for this chance to share a bit about my books with your readers. I’m truly honored to be a part of this blog. I’ve always loved the style of the 1920s—the lively music, the daring fashions, the flamboyant determination to enjoy life’s pleasures. But while it looks like one big party, there was a lot of reckless desperation beneath all the rule-breaking fun. Notions like honor, duty, and moral responsibility seemed pointless after a crushing world war and global pandemic. With those old values discredited, new ones vied to take their place.

As I try to show in Passing Fancies, hopes for greater freedoms and opportunities for women and people of color struggled to compete with more cynical celebrations of wealth and power. I was drawn to this combination of eye-popping exuberance and deep social frictions. No shortage of mystery and crime fiction plot ideas there!

AM: Tell readers about creating the fascinating character of Julia Kydd, a thoroughly modern woman in this era, and one who has an unusual area of expertise that readers will learn about. How did your own past experience influence her development?

MB: Julia loves books. She likes to read, but it’s physical books she’s passionate about, as works of art. She’s been smitten by the Arts and Crafts “fine printing” movement, which revived the old hand bookmaking crafts. When I was in graduate school studying the history of that movement in the 1920s, I learned how to set type, print, and bind books by hand. As anyone who’s ever dabbled in today’s popular book arts can understand, it’s a heady thing to give visual and tactile form to a writer’s words. Julia is as addicted to that pleasure as I am.

AM: Julia’s family life is . . . complicated, to say the least, with several recurring characters. Care to comment on that?

MB: Complicated, and then some. In my first book, Relative Fortunes, Julia is vexed by her estranged older half-brother’s power over her money and thus over her independence. Although Philip is her closest relation, she barely knows him and seems to have nothing in common with him beyond a surname. Lacking conventional family attachments, in Passing Fancies Julia forges somewhat daring new bonds to take their place, both with Philip and with her lifelong maid and confidante, Christophine.

AM: In this second book in the series, Julia faces the racism of the era and has an epiphany of her own. It’s clear you feel strongly about that. Why choose that to explore?

MB: I often hear friends and acquaintances, who are white like me, talk about racism with sympathy for people of color, as if the problems don’t involve white people too. In fact, centuries of racism shape the experiences of all Americans, not just those of color. But because racist policies and values have always benefited white people—whether or not we condone or even perceive them—we tend not to see, or to deny or justify, our advantages. Julia is disturbed to realize this about herself, and readers may squirm too. Unfortunately, history is full of uncomfortable truths we cannot escape. As Faulkner famously put it, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

AM: What’s next for Julia?

MB: I wish I knew. Future publishing decisions are as uncertain as everything else these days. Julia has grand plans to get her Capriole Press off the ground, now that she finally has her printing studio, but we’ll all have to wait and see what happens.
AM: Thanks so much for these insights, Marlowe. And now on to discuss Passing Fancies.

Julia Kydd is trying to launch Capriole Press, a small press that will have limited but exquisite books that would be as beautiful to hold and admire as to read, and to that end, she attends society parties to find works she can produce. She’s also looking to find collectors who would back her and to be accepted into the publishing world.

It’s the Jazz Age in New York, and Julia is introduced to Harlem nightclubs. One particular performer she meets at a house party captures her attention, and even more so when Julia sees her perform.

Eva Pruitt is a black singer with a divine figure who has written an explosive novel. Despite being under contract, the novel is wanted by several houses until it goes missing during a murder.

The men in Eva’s life all want different things from her and go to great lengths to have what they want. The reality she has lived with and must continue to experience shocks Julia and creates a bond between the two women.

Julia steps in to help Eva while coming face-to-face with her own racial prejudices and assumptions. It will prove to be a life-changing relationship for Julia and those she loves.

In creating Julia, Benn has a young woman who chafes at the freedoms of the men who surround her. She’s bold and yet empathetic. She probably drinks too much at parties. Yet she holds the book together well and readers will be rooting for her to succeed as she matures.

Benn captures the era perfectly, and dazzles readers with the clothing, food, and excesses. She also takes a good hard look at the class and racial divides of the time, which still echo today.

Jennifer Ryan: The Chilbury Ladies Choir Wednesday, May 27 2020 

In this time of a forced stay-home with more reading time, Auntie M is catching up on several books she missed when they first came out that friends recommended.

The Chilbury Ladies Choir is Jennifer Ryan’s debut, set in the first days of World War II. The vicar has put up a notice that as the men of the town are mostly gone to war, the village choir is to close.

But he hasn’t reckoned on the strong women of the town, led by the colorful Prim, who knows music inside and out, and is giving Kitty singing lessons. The women continue the choir without male voices, a newfangled idea that soon catches on and leads to adventures even as they become the voice of solace for the village.

Ryan introduces us to the wonderful ladies of the village and tells their stories with devices such as “Excerpt from Mrs. Tilling’s Journal” and “Letter from Miss Edwina Paltry to her sister, Clara.” There’s the young Kitty Winthrop’s diary, too, and letters from Kitty’s sister, Venetia, to her friend from the village now living in London.

Introducing the characters in this way allows the different women to speak of their fellow villagers from their own points of view, and that vary from insightful to naive.

A clever map on the interior allows readers to plot the course of the action in a time when walking was how most people got around.

After Dunkirk there will be losses from the village, and more closer to home. There are intrigues, affairs, crushes, and even the hush of homosexuality. And could there be spies in their little town?

It all adds up to a book that’s full of hope, absorbing to read, and a perfect way to wile away a few hours with a good cuppa and a few biscuits for company.

Jane Healey: The Animals at Lockwood Manor Wednesday, Mar 25 2020 

Jane Healey’s debut, The Animals at Lockwood Manor, illustrates how a grand atmospheric story with exhaustive research, backed by a great story, can bring a resounding mystery to life.

It’s 1939 and with London on the brink of World War II, a young museum director is tasked with moving the majority of the animals from the Natural History Museum out of harm’s way to Lockwood Manor.

The enormous country mansion owned by Major Lockwood is as overbearing as its owner. It’s a difficult adjustment for Hetty Cartwright, a young woman working in a man’s world with no friends nearby and the only ally the Major’s nervy daughter, Lucy, still reeling from the deaths a few months previously of her mother and grandmother in a car accident.

It doesn’t help that the villagers whisper about Lucy’s dead mother, mad by all accounts, haunted since her marriage by a woman in white. Lucy’s own nightmares center on a room she can’t find anywhere in the monstrosity she lives in of over ninety rooms, now stuffed with mammals and birds in some rooms in reality, but she soon makes her peace with the stuffed varieties.

With a friendship blooming between the two young women, countered by the Major’s abrasive manner and a haughty housekeeper, the huge house labors with a dearth of animals and a disappearing staff. Things don’t just go bump in the night, but move around or disappear. Lucy’s nightmares increase, her fragile emotions escalating, and soon Hetty’s own nightmares match Lucy’s in strength and foreboding.

Soon it’s apparent that not all of the ogres are stuffed. Just who is going mad?

After air raids start, things culminate when a party the Major holds runs amok with tragic consequences.

The gothic feel of the novel resounds with a haunting feel that matches the emotions of the two young women, who soon become entwined. With mirrors, sightings, and ghosts making their appearance, it is grounded with the research Healey has completed and absorbed at several natural history museums.

For fans of Rebecca, even Jane Eyre, and anything with a period or gothic feel, coupled with a darn good mystery. An impressive debut.

Karen Odden: A Trace of Deceit Sunday, Dec 22 2019 

Karen Odden returns with the next in her Victorian mysteries with A Trace of Deceit.

With its strong setting and hint of romance, there’s something for every reader as Odden introduces Annabel Rowe, one of the first female art students at the Slade School in London.

Despite the difficult relationship she had with her only brother, a talented artist, she’s determined to find who murdered the young man when she finds Scotland Yard’s Matthew Hallam searching his flat. The inspector soon comes to find Annabel’s knowledge of the art world helpful in his investigation, and the two team forces to flush out a killer.

With his checkered past, Edwin Rowe was restoring a painting for an auction house but it’s been stolen from its frame. Did Edwin surprise thieves, and was stabbed trying to prevent their theft? Or had his past caught up with him?

Things become more involved when it’s learned the painting’s owner had claimed insurance after it had supposedly been lost in a warehouse fire.

Odden uses her own knowledge of work at Christie’s, along with extensive research, to bring this period to life as the unlikely duo delve into corruption and politics of the art world.

Will Thomas: Lethal Pursuit Tuesday, Nov 12 2019 

Will Thomas returns with his Barker and Llewelyn series in Lethal Pursuit. The enquiry agents, whose chambers are in the shadow of Whitehall, have risen to annoy most of the higher-ups in government and Scotland Yard, yet continue to solve the most recalcitrant cases.

A Foreign Office agent has fled home to England carrying an important satchel from Eastern Europe, but murdered soon after arriving. With tensions rising between Germany and England, it’s imperative that the contents are kept out of German hands.

When no less than the Prime Minister gives them a simple assignment, newlywed Llewelyn, now a partner, can’t understand why Barker is taking his time to carry out the easy charge: deliver the satchel to Calais into the hands of a waiting monsignor from the Vatican.

Just what the satchel holds is unclear, but it’s rare and ancient, from the first century. Soon there are personal agents, secret societies, and political groups all vying to retrieve the satchel and its contents, and all putting Barker and Llewelyn at serious risk. And this time, Llewelyn has a bride waiting for him at home.

With his research nailing the details of the Victorian era, from the clothing and social manners to crimes and politics, Thomas delivers a satisfying read that advances both the characters and the times.

Jim Hart: A Tom Collins to Go Sunday, Oct 27 2019 

Times change but when it comes to certain genres of literature; sometimes the old ways are the best ways.

There are still legions of loyal readers who long for the days of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spillane. With A Tom Collins To Go (Winner of the Poison Cup Award from Crime Masters of America and Finalist for the Golden Book Award), Jim Hart proves he knows this by successfully incorporating the deadpan style with the film noir humor and drama of these authors into his private eye, Harry Parker.

Hart has created a powerful rendering of the true golden age hardboiled, hard drinking detective with a story that incorporates a keen eye for detail capturing the ambiance of the time.

The novel brings the reader back to the darker side of 1947 Brooklyn, New York. Hart includes all the best elements of the detective genre; mystery, action, sharp dialogue, wisecracks and a cast of well flushed-out-multilayered secondary characters.

On the surface this is a story about the kidnapping of a Wall Street millionaire, but it isn’t long before we realize that it is much deeper, and we are drawn into a fast-paced, gripping plot and character-driven story of greed, corruption and murder by the first person narration of the Sam Spade-like Harry Parker. Harry drinks too much, laments his failed marriage, longs for his ex, and his ‘don’t give a damn’ demeanor are what makes him so loveable.

With A Tom Collins To Go, Hart has created a powerful rendering of the golden era of the private eye story. If you are a fan of noir, the skillful combination of all of these elements makes the book a first rate read that is tough to put down. It’s like walking through a noir movie.

Jim Hart was raised in Brooklyn where he still resides with his wife. He began his working life as a drummer in rock and blues bands before beginning a thirty-year career in the New York City Sanitation Department, during which time he worked his way through the ranks to serve in such positions as the Deputy Director of Public Affairs and Director of Correspondence for the Sanitation Police.

Hart has published two noir detective novels in the Harry Parker Mystery Series A Tom Collins To Go, and The Aviation Cocktail. Both are set in 1947 Brooklyn, NY. A Tom Collins to Go was the winner of The Poison Cup Award from Crime Masters of America and a Finalist of the Golden Book Award. Both novels received favorable comparisons to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. He is currently working on the third installment tentatively titled Bloody Mary.

Hart has also published two Poetry Collections: Ramblings Of A One-Eyed Garbage Man, and A Handful Of Smoke, as well as being the co-writer of two songs on The Peter Stevens Band CD Change My World.

Abigail Keam: Death by Stalking Wednesday, Oct 23 2019 

Please welcome Abigail Keam, who writes two mystery series:

Hi. I’m Abigail Keam and I write the Josiah Reynolds Mystery series about a woman who makes her living as a beekeeper and is an amateur sleuth in the lush Bluegrass horse country—a world of Thoroughbreds, oak-cured bourbon, and antebellum mansions.

The Josiah Reynolds Mysteries are a little different from the usual cozy. While there is very little violence, sex, or swearing in the storylines, they are a tad darker than most cozies. Josiah is not your typical sweet heroine. She has a bite to her and does not suffer fools gladly.

I try to make these stories as much fun as possible and have given Josiah some quirky friends that can only be found in the South. There is Josiah’s ancient next door neighbor, Lady Elsmere, who married an English lord and came back to live in the Bluegrass. Josiah’s daughter, Asa, claims she is an art insurance investigator, but everyone knows she works for the CIA. There is also Baby, Josiah’s 200 pound English Mastiff, and Glory, an American Paint horse who has a penchant for throwing Josiah off.

As I am a beekeeper, I love weaving beekeeping facts into my mysteries as well as historical facts about Kentucky, which has a fascinating past.

My twelfth JR Mystery—Death By Stalking—recently received a Readers’ Favorite award in the category of Murder Mystery. I was thrilled to receive the award alongside such other talented authors.

I currently released a new series—The Mona Moon Mysteries are a historical rags-to-riches series taking place during the Great Depression. Mona Moon is a cartographer, counting pennies when she learns that she has inherited her uncle’s vast wealth and a horse farm. She thinks her worries are over until someone tries to kill her. Oh, dear!


Award-winning author Abigail Keam has just released her new mystery series—the Mona Moon Mysteries—a rags-to-riches1930s mystery series which includes real people and events into the storyline. The new series is about a cartographer who is broke and counting her pennies when there is a knock at her door. A lawyer, representing her deceased uncle, announces Mona has inherited her uncle’s fortune and a horse farm in the Bluegrass. Mona can’t believe it. She is now one of the richest women in the country and in the middle of the Great Depression!

Abigail Keam is an award-winning and Amazon best-selling author who writes the Josiah Reynolds Mystery Series about a Southern beekeeper turned amateur female sleuth. The Last Chance For Love Series tells of strangers who come from all walks of life to the magical Last Chance Motel in Key Largo and get a second chance at rebuilding their lives, and The Princess Maura Fantasy Series.

One thing Miss Abigail loves to do as an author is to write real people and events into her storylines. “I am a student of history and love to insert historical information into my mysteries. My goal is to entertain my readers, but if they learn a little something along the way—well, then we are both happy. I certainly learn a lot from my research, and I hope my readers come away with a new appreciation of beekeeping from my Josiah Reynolds Mysteries.”

AWARDS

2010 Gold Medal Award from Readers’ Favorite for Death By A HoneyBee
2011 Gold Medal Award from Readers’ Favorite for Death By Drowning
2011 USA BOOK NEWS-Best Books List of 2011 as a Finalist for Death By Drowning
2011 USA BOOK NEWS-Best Books List of 2011 as a Finalist for Death By A HoneyBee
2017 Finalist from Readers’ Favorite for Death By Design
2019 Honorable Mention from Readers’ Favorite for Death By Stalking

PASSIONS

Besides loving history, Kentucky bourbon and chocolate, Abigail loves honeybees and for many years made her living by selling honey at a farmers’ market. She is an award-winning beekeeper who has won 16 honey awards at the Kentucky State Fair including the Barbara Horn Award, which is given to beekeepers who rate a perfect 100 in a honey competition.

A strong supporter of farmers’ markets and local food economy, Miss Abigail has taken her knowledge of beekeeping to create a fictional beekeeping protagonist, Josiah Reynolds, who solves mysteries in the Bluegrass. While Miss Abigail’s novels are for enjoyment, she discusses the importance of a local sustainable food economy and land management for honeybees and other creatures.

She currently lives on the Kentucky River in a metal house with her husband and various critters. She still has honeybees.
http://www.abigailkeam.com
abigailshoney@windstream.net
https://www.facebook.com/AbigailKeam

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCThdrO8pCPN6JfTM9c857JA

Sherry Thomas: The Art of Theft Wednesday, Oct 16 2019 

Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock Series returns with the fourth, The Art of Theft, another in the feminist series that has Sherlock as Charlotte, who solves crimes with Mrs. Watson.

With a complicated family situation and lots of tendrils of involved relationships that Thomas explains, the case comes down to the theft of a painting that has secrets hidden behind the canvas.

Those secret letters are need to be recovered for an old and close friend of Mrs. Watson, and Charlotte agrees to help. Enlisting the aid of her aristocratic team brings them to a gaudy Parisian costume ball during the holiday season at a French chateau where the painting in question is hidden, waiting to be auctioned off.

There will be an elaborate scheme that starts with the architectural drawings of the chateau and advances to include the dreaded Moriarty and his own team. Soon dessert-loving Charlotte is disguised in such an ingenious way even her own mother wouldn’t know her.

A wealth of historical details show the depth of Thomas’s research. She weaves this tale with social mores of the times and shows the difficult position of women yearning to be acknowledged for their brains as well as their beauty.

A strong thread of romance and wit add to prose that reflects the era in this historical re-imagining with Charlotte’s formidable and accomplished brain at the forefront.

Nicola Upson: Sorry for the Dead Tuesday, Oct 8 2019 

After the tremendous success of the stand-alone Stanley and Elsie, Nicola Upson’s tour de force of the artist Stanley Spencer’s complicated marriage and art from the view of his housekeeper, Elsie Munday, the author gives us the the eighth in her series the Sunday Times calls “historical fiction at its very best” featuring Josephine Tey as its main character in Sorry for the Dead.

Upson takes readers in part to Tey’s younger years, alternating with the time period associated with the majority of the previous novels in the 1930s, with a few brief forays a decade later. It is to Upson’s credit that the details for each period ring true and cement each era without confusing the reader. Indeed, the reader becomes immersed in each time frame, in its details and its mores within history.

These periods are needed to tell the story that starts in 1915, when a young Josephine is present as a teacher at Charleston Farmhouse on the Sussex Downs when a young girl dies under suspicious circumstances.

Decades later when Josephine returns to the same house, the memories of those days already brought to the forefront of her mind by recent events, she remembers the two women who ran the farm and taught horticulture to young women during the Great War.

Georgina Hartford-Wroe and Harriet Barker had a difficult time with the neighboring farmers, with whispers about their personal relationship they might have overcome, if not for the tragic death of the girl in their care. That death will turn out to haunt both women for the rest of their lives.

Deftly weaving the storylines between young Josephine’s life and choices then to the path she has chosen as an adult, readers are given privy to her backstory and the events surrounding the death; and later as an adult as she determines she must follow up on the death of that young woman.

In each period, Upson’s language captures the essence of any scene, such as when Josephine as an adult peers into the former site of the girl’s death: “Everything was covered by a silver labyrinth of spiders’ webs, miraculously strong enough to hold the past in place,” presenting a wonderful foreshadowing of the secrets from that long-ago day.

In the earlier time frame, she illustrates the pathos of a WWI train station:

“The platform had filled up quickly, with no one willing to board the train before the last possible moment. She scanned the faces of those who had come to see their loved ones off: wives who talked too much to hide their fear; fathers standing strict and silent; children for whom a uniform hadn’t lost its glamour … As for the men themselves, their faces were set and impassive, and she noticed how few of them dared to look for long at the people they loved.”

This sense of loss, the effects of war, the horrors it brought to those who fought and to those left behind, are indicated in such a subtle but discerning way that it is impossible to forget the aura of the day in the earlier chapters, and in those of 1938, the lead up to the brink of new horrors.

The ending brings with it not so much a sense of justice as that of survival and ultimately, unending love. This is an accomplished novel, as moving as it is complex, with the mystery of a young woman’s death at its heart. Highly recommended.

Marlowe Benn: Relative Fortunes Sunday, Aug 4 2019 


Marlowe Benn’s debut, Relative Fortunes, is filled with issues and social mores, not to say fashion, too, of 1924. It’s a stylish mystery that evokes the blues of the Jazz Age in which it’s set.

Benn introduces American Julia Kydd, who returns to New York after living in England where she’s incubating the germ of an idea for a small, elite press. Loving all things type, font, and paper, she dreams of establishing her own imprint. With women just able to vote, this is a heady time for women.

Julia’s half-sibling, Philip, controls her allowance until her soon-to-occur 25th birthday, but brings a suit to attempt to claim her half of their father’s estate. While this battles out, Julia is forced to stay in Philip’s home, and learns more than she wanted to about the brother she’s been estranged from and never really knew growing up.

Then the sister of a friend dies and she’s pulled into what she comes to believe is a murder, not a covered-up suicide the family hopes to pass off as a brief illness. Naomi Rankin was a well-known suffragette, and her younger sister, Glennis, is Julia’s new friend. Present with Glennis at the family home for a closed memorial service for Naomi, Julia is shocked to see the lack of regard for Naomi and the miserly way this wealthy family has treated her because of her beliefs in woman’s rights.

When Glennis begs Julia to help her prove Naomi was murdered, Philip’s wager that if she can find out what happened she will keep her inheritence is too good to pass up.

Peopled with real figures from the era in the world of bibliophiles, Benn brings her own love of book arts to Julia, while exploring the few options open to women at this time. If one didn’t have money, those options shrunk even smaller.

Benn also shows Julia and Glennis, and even Naomi through her friends, who must consider their futures and how those differ for men and women. In the stunning climax, this disparity between genders is brought to the forefront in a tragic yet realistic way.

An accomplished debut.

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Lee Lofland

The Graveyard Shift

S L Hollister, author

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Lee Lofland

The Graveyard Shift

S L Hollister, author

Welcome to Leeward

Liz Loves Books

The Wonderful World of Reading

The Life of Guppy

the care and feeding of our little fish

dru's book musings

Reading is a wonderful adventure!

JoHanna Massey

"I tramp the perpetual journey." Walt Whitman

MiddleSisterReviews.com

(mid'-l sis'-tǝr) n. the reader's favorite sister

My train of thoughts on...

Smile! Don't look back in anger.

K.R. Morrison, Author

My author site--news and other stuff about books and things

The Wickeds

Wicked Good Mysteries

John Bainbridge Writer

Indie Writer and Publisher

Some Days You Do ...

Writers & Writing, my own & other people's; movies, art, music & the search for a perfect flat white - the bits & pieces of a writing life.

Crimezine

#1 for Crime

Mellotone70Up

John Harvey on Books & Writing - his own & other people 's - Art, Music, Movies, & the elusive search for the perfect Flat White.

A thrilling Murder-Mystery...

...now being made into a radio drama

Past Offences: Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews

The best mystery and crime fiction (up to 1987): Book and movie reviews