Two from Cheryl Bolen

Cheryl Bolen brings us two charming Regency romances this season, Once Upon a Time in Bath, and A Proposal of Marriage.

When wide-eyed country girl Dorothea Pankhurst arrives in Bath with her four cats and her widowed father, she has few plans beyond convincing Mr. Pankhurst that the waters may improve his health. Mr. Pankhurst, however, harbors thoughts of launching his only child into society. Neither of them expect that Dot, who considers herself rather plain, and definitely out of touch with current fashion, will attract a titled suitor.

When Viscount Appleton strikes up an acquaintance with Dot on the street (aided by one of her cats), it’s not the coincidence it appears to be. For Mr. Pankhurst is a very wealthy man, and Dot is his only heiress—and Appleton is in dire need of an heiress’s dowry to rescue his family fortunes.

Appleton is not entirely sure what happened that night at Mrs. Starr’s gaming establishment, only that before the night was over he had bet—and lost—nearly everything he owned. Even worse, his enemy Henry Wolf now holds the IOUs. To save his family fortune—and to save his sister Annie from marriage to Wolf—Appleton needs to marry an heiress, and fast.

Appleton is sure he doesn’t love Miss Pankhurst, although he finds her increasingly interesting (in spite of the cats), while Dot worries that Lord Appleton is only interested in her dowry (and worse than that, she knows, thanks to the gossipy Bath Chronicle, that he keeps a mistress).

When the two unlikely partners team up to solve a murder mystery, they begin to realize how much they truly have in common.

Once Upon a Time in Bath will delight Bolen’s longtime fans with visits from several characters from her previous books, but first time readers will have no problems jumping in.

In A Proposal of Marriage, Rebecca Peabody is a woman with a mission. Bespectacled, American born, and the 20-year-old younger sister of the Countess of Warwick, she feels every restriction placed upon young unmarried women in Regency London. No one knows that she has a secret career as the essayist P. Corpus, and she means to keep it that way. How better than to marry someone who will free her from those restrictions and let her live her own life.

She sets her sights on John Compton, the Earl of Aynsley, a 43-year-old widower with seven children and estates in Shropshire. Surely such a man could use a wife with organizational skills (Rebecca once cataloged the largest private library in Britain) to manage his household, without expecting much in the way of those unpleasant physical intimacies Rebecca has only heard about. And one day she marches right into his London house and proposes a marriage of convenience.

Aynsley, a good-hearted soul, lets this strange (but clearly intelligent and passionate) young woman down as gently as he can. It’s only after she leaves his house that he associates the name Peabody with P. Corpus, an essayist he reads faithfully in the Edinburgh Review and greatly admires. Intelligent indeed, and rather pretty, and so very young . . .

It doesn’t take long for Aynsley to realize this marriage might be a really good idea, and a solution to several problems. Before she can quite realize what she’s gotten herself into, Rebecca is the new Countess of Aynsley (despite her American dislike of titles), settling into Aynsley’s Shropshire estates.

Only four of Aynsley’s children remain at home, but they are indeed a handful. Spencer, age 8, Alex, age 6, and Chuckie, age 3, miss having a mother and welcome Rebecca (although that doesn’t stop some creative misbehavior), but 18-year-old Emily, losing her place as mistress of the house, is another matter entirely.

Throw in a slightly deaf uncle who likes to garden in the nude, a moon-struck cousin who won’t find steady work because he can’t bear to be away from Emily, and that portrait of the previous countess hanging over the dining room table, and Rebecca has almost more than she can deal with. And then she realizes that she’s falling in love with her husband.

A Proposal of Marriage combines humor, politics, likeable characters, and growing romance into a thoroughly enjoyable novel.

“Deadly” Reading

Kate Parker continues her pre-WWII series with Deadly Travel. It’s the spring of 1939, and Olivia Denis has been recruited to fill in as a chaperone on a KinderTransport run to Germany and back. Run by local Quakers, the organization rescues German children, mostly Jewish, who are in danger under the Nazis. Olivia’s cover is to write a favorable article which will help raise money for the work, but she’s really going on an errand for spymaster Sir Malcolm Freemantle. The woman she is replacing, Alice Waterson, has been murdered, and Sir Malcolm wants to know who did it. When Olivia arrives in Berlin and checks in with the British Embassy, she’s given another assignment: smuggle the wife and sons of a German dissident and British spy who has been arrested by the Gestapo to safety in England on the KinderTransport.

When another murder occurs, Olivia is certain one of the Quaker chaperones is the killer, but how can that be? These people are Pacifists, after all. Juggling her job, Sir Malcolm’s demands, a seemingly dead end investigation, and her plans to marry Adam Redmond, Olivia has her hands full.

Kate Parker combines the serious, and frequently terrifying, circumstances of the late 1930s, as Olivia and all of England wait on edge for the war they know is coming, with domestic humor and the details of daily life. You can’t go wrong with any of her novels.

Colleen Thompson’s Deadly Texas Summer is a tense and fast-paced tale of romantic suspense. Wildlife biologist Emma Copley is studying the effect of wind turbines on endangered birds, but her project begins to unravel as she gets more and more threatening calls from her unbalanced ex-husband. When her research assistant is killed, Emma is sure her ex is somehow responsible, but the local sheriff pronounces the death an accident.

Beau Kingston, owner of the ranch who’s future may depend on the success of the wind turbines, doesn’t want to believe the researcher was murdered—he has a whole pile of other problems to worry about, including the sheriff, who is his cousin and rival for control of the ranch. But he finds it harder and harder to ignore Emma’s concerns—or Emma herself.

With the sheriff playing them against each other for his own reasons, Emma and Beau don’t know who to trust, but it’s so hard to resist their growing attraction to each other. With suspects mounting amid contradictory alibis, will Emma survive to discover the truth? Well, it’s a romance, folks. You can count on a happy ending. But getting there will be quite a struggle, with layers of suspense and mystery—and two irresistible little boys.

I’ve been missing in action for a couple of months for a number of reasons, not the least of which was WordPress moving to their new block editor. But I’ve finally overcome a couple of problems, and I have a backlog of book reviews to post. I’ll try to catch up by the end of the year. Meanwhile, thanks for stopping by.

Cozy Catch Up

Murder, Curlers & Kilts, the fifth installment in Arlene McFarlane’s charming Valentine Beaumont series, finds Valentine attending Rueland’s annual Multi-Cultural Festival. One of this year’s big attractions is a caber toss—or is it the participating men in kilts? When a kilt-clad body pops out of the pond in the middle of the park, Valentine is on the trail.

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Helped or hindered by the usual gang of beauty specialists (Valentine’s salon employees Max, Jock, and Phyllis, not to mention her arch-rival Candace), Valentine works her way through a long list of possible suspects while trying to stay under the radar of Detective Romero. In true Valentine fashion, she finds herself hanging on for dear life as she pursues the killer onto a Ferris Wheel.

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And—biggest question of all—is it true what they say about men wearing kilts? Well, Valentine may just have a chance to find out.

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Lowcountry Boondoggle is Susan M. Boyer’s ninth Liz Talbot mystery, and once again the city of Charleston and the South Carolina barrier islands are a fascinating part of the story. This time around, Liz and her husband/partner are drawn into a case by a former client, Darius Baker (Lowcountry Boomerang), whose recently-discovered son, Brantley, has become involved in a hemp farming operation. Nothing wrong with that, until the uncle of one of Brantley’s two partners is murdered and his house destroyed in a gas explosion.

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Was the hemp operation involved? The uncle, a university professor, had declined to invest. What about all those women who showed up at the professor’s funeral? Or the cloud over Brantley’s head—could he have set the fire that killed his adoptive family? And then there were two of the professor’s students, possibly involved in something shady. Not only are there plenty of suspects, the suspects are suspicious of one another.

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Lowcountry Boondoggle is another wild ride for Liz and Nate, not to mention the continuing adventures of Liz’s family, what with her father’s over-the-top Halloween yard decor and a couple of surprises from her brother Blake. I’ve enjoyed this series from the beginning, and this installment did not let me down.

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Killer Queen is the latest (and eleventh) installment in Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Mystery series, and it’s just as good as its predecessors. Ellison finds another body—in her own house. Worse, the dead woman had introduced herself to housekeeper Aggie as Mrs. Anarchy Jones. Since Anarchy has no Mrs, not even an ex, it takes a while to figure out who the dead woman is, as well as her connection to Kansas City country club society. But of course there is one. In fact there are so many connections that Ellison can’t find one suspect who had motive, means, and opportunity at the same time.

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Ellison’s supporting cast is here—her daughter Grace, her friends Libba and Jinx and the rest of the bridge-playing gals, and her parents. And—terrifying—Anarchy’s mother. Kansas City in the early 70s, when computers and cell phones dominated no one’s life, also plays its part.

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I love this series. Next one arrives in February—I’ll be waiting.

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The Luck Runs Out is the second installment in Charlotte MacLeod’s Peter Shandy mystery series. Things are definitely going wrong at Balaclava Agricultural College after someone turns the horseshoes hanging in the barn to the unlucky position. A robbery, a murder, and the pignapping of Belinda of Balaclava, a very large, very pregnant porker. Are any of these connected? It falls to Peter, with help from his new wife Helen and the towering president of the college, Thjorkeld Svenson, to untangle the mysteries.

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I read this series back in the 70s and I’m enjoying its resurrection in ebook form. Kudos to Open Road and Mysterious Press for rescuing so many older mysteries. But this one, I have to say, is riddled with typos, superfluous commas, and missing periods. I suspect that someone had the original book (probably an old paperback) scanned and formatted, without taking the essential middle step of proofreading the scanner output. If you can tolerate that, you’ll enjoy the story.

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