Cindy Vallar

Author, Editor, & Pirate Chronicler
P. O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425

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Recommended Books to Read

Historical Fiction            Romance            Contemporary Fiction            Mystery & Suspense            Nonfiction

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MYSTERY & SUSPENSE
The Blue and the Grey by M. J. Trow
Setting: Washington, DC and London
Time: 19th Century


The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn
Setting: England
Time: 19th Century


The Darkness Knows by Cheryl Honigford
Setting:: Illinois
Time: 20th Century


Deadly Exchange by Sheryl Stafford
Setting: Bahamas
Time: 20th Century



Deed of Murder by Cora Harrison
Setting: Ireland
Time: 16th Century


Die I Will Not by S. K. Rizzolo
Setting: England
Time: Regency


A Gathering of Spies by John Altman
Setting: United States, England, Germany
Time: 20th Century


Homicide for the Holidays by Cheryl Honigford
Setting: Illinois
Time: 20th Century


Last to Remember by Joyce & Jim Lavene
Setting: North Carolina
Time: 20th Century
 

Missing Star by Don Westenhaver
Setting: California
Time: 20th Century
Resurrection Men by T. K. Welsh
Setting: England
Time: 19th Century


The Shiloh Sisters by Michael Kilian
Setting: MIssissippi
Time: American Civil War



 
Trouble Brewing by Dolores Gordon-Smith
Setting: England
Time: 1920s



Until Our Last Embrace
by Joyce & Jim Lavene
Setting: North Carolina
Time: 20th Century



THE BLUE AND THE GREY
M. J. Trow
CrŤme de la Crime, 2014

Cover Art: The Blue
                        and the GreyAfter witnessing Lincolnís assassination on April 14, 1865, Matthew Grand pursues John Wilkes Booth into the alley behind Fordís Theatre, only to be thwarted by a mysterious Englishman. Undeterred, Grand continues to investigate until crossing paths with the head of the National Detective Police, who suspects that Grand may be one of the conspirators. The only way for him to prove his innocence is to go to London and track down the Englishman.

The same evening the president is slain, James Batchelor meets a prostitute whose body he later stumbles upon in a nearby alley. Arrested as a suspect, heís eventually released by Inspector Tanner of Scotland Yard who believes itís advantageous having a journalist beholden to him. Tired of writing society-page stories, Batchelor sees the murder as his ticket to fame. Instead, his editor at the Telegraph fires him. Then two more women are garroted, a wealthy stranger is murdered on a ship bound for London, and Batchelor is hired to discover what Grand knows and why heís in England. Grand refuses to discuss the night at Fordís Theatre, but asks Batchelor to help him with his investigations. They soon realize thereís a connection between the Englishman in Washington, the murder on the ship, and the killer in London.

The murders of this intricately woven whodunit keep the reader guessing, but the plethora of characters make it difficult to keep track of whoís who. This first book in a new Victorian mystery series vividly recreates the sense of loss and shock that permeated Washington after the assassination, while providing a vibrant glimpse into the seamier side of 19th-century London.


(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, May 2015)

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THE DARK ENQUIRY
(Editors' Choice title)
Deanna Raybourn
MIRA, 2011

Cover Art: The
                            Dark EnquiryAfter her eldest brother, Viscount Bellmont, secretly visits her husband, Lady Julia Brisbane ponders why since the two donít particularly like each other. Her curiosity piqued, she follows Nicholas to the Spirit Club but then loses him. Determined to get to the bottom of things, she attends a sťance given by Madame Sťraphine. Since Nicholas is as skeptical as she is about spiritualism, Julia canít see how the medium fits into his latest private enquiry investigation.

After the sťance ends but before Julia departs, Nicholas reveals his presence and the reason for being at the Spirit Club. They search Madameís room, but before they find her brotherís letters, the mediumís return forces them into hiding. From this vantage point, they watch her die from poisoning. Although they make a hasty retreat before the police arrive, they continue the hunt for Bellmontís letters, which can topple the present government should they fall into the wrong hands. In doing so, the Brisbanes soon find themselves the target of the murderer and others who search for the letters.

International intrigue, arson, locked mausoleums, and secret identities abound in this spellbinding historical mystery, the fifth in the series. Raybournís characters are multifaceted, and she expertly weaves their back stories into this tale so readers unfamiliar with previous books are easily drawn into the current investigation. The intricate plot unravels with twists and turns that challenge us but keep us guessing until the end. Raybourn expertly spins a tale that transports us back to 1889 London, allowing us to observe Juliaís scientific experiments firsthand, to meet the members of her quirky family, or to enter the mysterious world of the gypsy. This riveting mystery will soon make readers fans who will eagerly await Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbaneís next adventure.


(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, August 2011)

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THE DARKNESS KNOWS
Cheryl Honigford
Sourcebooks, 2016

Cover Art: The
                        Darkness KnowsFormer secretary Vivian Witchell plays a gumshoe's sidekick on radio station WCHI's The Darkness Knows. She likes the attention the press pays her until after she trips over a dead body one late night in October 1938. Now reporters want interviews, the police ask questions, and a fan mentions her in a threatening letter. Of course, Vivian's not thoroughly convinced the murderer will really come after her; then someone tries to kill her at the annual Halloween party. She became an actress because she craved excitement, so she's not about to sit around and wait to be killed. Nor will she allow another actress to take over such a plum role. If that happens, she might as well bid her career goodbye.

Private detective Charlie Haverman is the special consultant for The Darkness Knows. The station manager also hires him to protect Vivian, but that task proves challenging. She won't stay home, and she insists on poking her nose into his investigation into the murder. In fact, her presence vexes him almost as much as her dates with the debonair actor who plays Harvey Diamond, gumshoe extraordinaire on the radio drama.

Murder with a hint of romance and scandal introduces readers to the Viv and Charlie Mystery series. Honigford vividly recreates Chicago during the Depression. The depth of her research and her realistic portrayal of old-time radio transport readers back to its golden age, when listeners gathered around their sets to hear The Shadow, Boston Blackie, or The Thin Man. This is a thrilling adventure laced with humor that keeps readers guessing whodunit until the end.


(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, August 2016)

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A DEADLY EXCHANGE

by Sheryl Stafford
iUniverse, 2001

Cover Art: Deadly
                            ExchangeMatthew Spence never thought to remarry after he returned from Vietnam. His memories of capture and torture as a prisoner of war in Hanoi haunt him. Then he met Alexandra, who taught him how to trust and stop being afraid.

Alex is thirteen years younger than her forty-eight-year-old husband, but she loves him deeply. He taught her to follow her own path and to think rather than feel her way through a situation.

They've reached a stage in their lives when they want to relax and enjoy life. They board their boat and sail around the Bahamas. What they don't realize is that hidden belowdecks is a shipment of cocaine, mistakenly stowed on their boat. When the drug dealers show up, Alex is injured and kidnapped while Matt is ashore. He must confront painful memories and find the courage to rescue Alex before it's too late.

Don't bother picking up this book unless you can devote the time to read it in one sitting. Ms. Stafford snares you with the first harrowing chase and doesn't release you until you close the back cover. The life experiences of the author and her husband make A Deadly Exchange seem real. Both have sailed around the Bahamas numerous times, and Commander Stafford was a pilot broken by the Viet Cong after his plane was shot down during the war. As you read this book you will find yourself aboard the Spencers' sailboat instead of being safe in your own home. Your heart will beat rapidly from fear and terror as Alex and Matt confront the head of the cartel and his men, none of whom have any redeeming qualities.


(Originally written for Ivy Quill Reviews)

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DEED OF MURDER
Cora Harrison
Severn House, 2011

Cover Art:
                              Deed of MurderThe OíHalloran clan has grown flax and produced linen for years. It is their principal means of support, and Mara, Brehon of the Burren, doesnít expect any change to the status quo. At the annual auction for the lease, however, a late arrival outbids Cathal OíHalloran. Later, at her infant sonís christening party, she discovers three of her students have disappeared. Eamon, charged with taking the lease to OíBrien of Arra, owner of the flax garden, for his signature, is found dead in the flax garden. Why he departs in the middle of the night is a mystery, as is the location of his body.

Why did he take the long way back from OíBrienís? What happened to the lease he carried and was it signed? Was he killed to necessitate another auction, or was his death an accident? Did Fachnan, another of the missing students, confront Eamon in a jealous rage? If not, where is he? Mara wants to solve these conundrums, but her regal duties as wife of the Irish King Turlough prevent her from unraveling the mysteries confronting her. Then another body turns up. When she finally realizes what happened, will she be in time, or will someone dear to her also die?

This latest in the Brehon of the Burren series set in early 16th-century Ireland unravels at a slower pace than usual, but punctuates Maraís distractedness as she ponders her young sonís future while entertaining her guests. The authorís tendency to repeat information may annoy some readers, and the slow pace may dissuade others from reading the entire book, but those who persevere will be rewarded with an electrifying climax and a surprising solution to the crimes.


(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, November 2011)

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DIE I WILL NOT
S. K. Rizzolo
Poisoned Pen, 2014

Cover Art: Die I
                              Will NotThe 1813 murder of a newspaper editor intrigues Penelope Wolfe, but the resulting scandal could involve her. The editor was about to reveal the identity of Collantinus, who's been writing letters attacking the Prince Regent. Twenty years ago, Penelope's father used that name to pen treasonous letters. Fearing arrest after the murder of a lady known only as N. D. and with ties to the Prince Regent and himself, he fled the country. Now someone uses his alias to seek revenge for N. D.'s murder. To protect her family, Penelope enlists the aid of two friends: barrister Edward Buckler, who's in love with her even though she's already married, and John Chase, a Bow Street Runner. Together they risk their lives and careers to unmask the villain and protect Penelope.

The complicated mystery is neatly solved, while the personal relationships are intriguing. Readers unfamiliar with the previous books in the John Chase Mysteries may feel disoriented by the characters and period language, but as the story unfolds this fades away. From the rigid, prim-and-proper rules of society to the seamier sides of the city, Rizzolo vividly brings to life the world of Regency London.


(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, February 2015)

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A GATHERING OF SPIES

John Altman
Putnam, 2000

Cover Art:
                                  A Gathering of SpiesIn 1933, Katarina Heinrich murders a co-worker and assumes her identity and her job as a professor's housekeeper. By the time her employer is invited to work in Los Alamos, New Mexico, the pair have married. When Katarina obtains the top secret plans for the atomic bomb, she can finally return a hero to her homeland, Nazi Germany. Getting there poses problems, though.

Ten years pass, and America has joined her allies in fighting Hitler. Meanwhile, in England, Andrew Taylor has recruited Harry Winterbotham to infiltrate the enemy as a double agent. With Katarina headed for England, Harry finds his impending mission put on hold. He assists in searching for this most dangerous of spies, but does so with his own agenda. His mission is paramount, for he means to secure the release of his Jewish wife, a prisoner of the Nazis, no matter what.

The intriguing twists and turns in this debut novel capture the reader's attention offering no escape until the last page is turned. While none of the characters is likeable, Katarina and Harry evoke respect for their ingenuity and determination to achieve their goals. An excellent thriller.


(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, November 2000)

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HOMICIDE FOR THE HOLIDAYS
Cheryl Honigford
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2017

Cover Art:
                                  Homicide for the HolidaysNear Christmas 1938, Vivian Witchell discovers a long-missing key to her deceased father's desk. She finds money and a seven-year-old warning -- not to talk -- inside the locked drawer. Who threatened her father and why? The questions stir her curiosity, but the threat brings back memories of the murder she helped solve two months earlier at the Chicago radio station where she works. When the money vanishes, she knows someone else knows what she's found. Then she uncovers a second key, but to what? Private detective Charlie Haverman could help, but she hasn't seen him since the other mystery.

Viv longs to renew their acquaintance, but he refuses to play second fiddle to Graham Yarborough, her co-star in The Darkness Knows. She doesn't love Graham, but the radio station insists that the public think they are an item. Refusal would mean losing her job. Once she tracks down Charlie, he agrees to help her purely as a business proposition. The more they learn, the more she realizes her father wasn't the man she thought he was. The closer she comes to the truth, the more determined someone is to keep her in the dark.

Suspects abound in this second Viv and Charlie Mystery: a partner who drinks too much, a secretary with a green thumb, an assistant state's attorney, a secretive German companion, and a loyal housekeeper. The red herrings and diverse subplots will keep readers guessing, but the historical tie-in to her father's death is tenuous. The romance is less satisfying and the repartee between Vivi and Charlie is disappointingly absent in this sequel to The Darkness Knows; in fact, Charlie doesn't show up until chapter ten, and he's more of a supporting character than one might expect. Still, fans of Viv and Charlie will welcome their return.


(Originally published in Historical Novels Review, November 2017)

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THE LAST TO REMEMBER
Joyce and Jim Lavene
Thomas Bouregy & Co/Avalon Books, April 2001

Cover
                                  Art: Last to RememberA blizzard. A child's corpse in a church. A murder confession. A death in the police station. A snitch in the department. An obnoxious district attorney. Combine these ingredients and you have a riveting mystery for Sharyn Howard, the sheriff of Diamond Springs, to solve.

The body in the chapel of the former boys' reformatory belongs to a child long dead. Soon after its discovery, the town's wealthiest and most philanthropic citizen confesses to killing the boy forty years ago. Then the alleged murderer turns up dead in the police station and Sharyn realizes she and her deputies are in trouble. The unexpected appearance of Alan Michaelson confirms her suspicions that a colleague is in the assistant district attorney's pocket because he knows details of the case before she tells him. But who is it?

Nick, the medical examiner, is a constant thorn in Sharyn's side. Jeremy, his assistant, is overzealous and inexperienced. Even worse, could it be one of her deputies: Lennie -- a hunk and former pro-football player who's studying the law; Ernie -- a man her father trusted and who's not focusing on the job; or David -- who doesn't always think before acting but covets her job?

As she wades through  this public relations mess, interrogates suspects, and delves into long-buried secrets connected with the old boys' reform school, Sharyn dislikes what she finds. With each clue, she comes closer to solving the case, making her a target as well. But will she put all the pieces together before someone else dies?

Although this is the second Sharyn Howard book by Joyce and Jim Lavene, mystery fans won't feel like they're floundering if they haven't read the first book, The Last Good-bye. They have created a wonderful cast of characters that make for a most engaging murder mystery. The twists and turns spiced with a few red herrings will keep readers intrigued, compelling them to turn the page until the puzzle is solved. They will root for Sharyn even when she seems to face insurmountable odds, because despite her foibles, she is an old-fashioned, honorable sheriff. And her interactions with Nick and Lennie make a most amusing interplay of human emotions that promise more spice to come in future cases for Sharyn and the Diamond Spring Police Department to solve.


(Originally reviewed for Ivy Quill Reviews)

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MISSING STAR
Don Westenhaver
First Edition Design Publishing, 2016

Cover
                                  Art: Missing StarAfter graduation, Danny Parker ended his relationship with Joyce Villareal to become a priest. Now, having witnessed so much death and destruction in the Great War, he questions his faith and God's existence. Thoughts of Joyce and renewing their relationship sustain him, but meanwhile she has pursued her own dreams and is a rising Hollywood star.

On his return to Long Beach, California, Danny finds work in the oil fields and visits Joyce's father, only to hear that Joyce has gone missing. Joyce's father pleads with Danny to investigate, and Danny enlists the help of his brother, a Long Beach police officer. When a high school friend's girl is kidnapped off the beach, Danny begins to wonder if the same might have happened to Joyce. But who took her and why?

The coercion of someone close to the investigation is the weak thread in what is otherwise an intricately woven web of intrigue. The reason for the blackmail is plausible, but the resolution is a bit pat and the character's guilt isn't deeply explored. Even so, this historical mystery combines the inspirational themes of redemption and second chances with greed, corruption, jurisdictional disputes, and political clout in a way that vividly transports readers back to 1919. Glamour and glitz, as well as black gold, provide the camouflage that hides the seamier side of a Hollywood where exploiting innocence and pleasure take precedence over human decency.


(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, November 2018)

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RESURRECTION MEN

T. K. Welsh
Dutton, 2007

Cover
                                  Art: Resurrection MenIn the midst of a storm, a carriage careens along a mud-choked road. The coachman doesnít see the lad until itís too late. Against his employerís wishes, he takes the injured boy to a nearby physician, whose ministrations bring to mind another boy whose story begins in 1830 Italy. Twelve-year-old Victor witnesses the brutal slaying of his parents by soldiers, who sell him to a ship owner. Life at sea is different, but Victor quickly learns the ropes. Danger threatens once again, and in trying to escape, he tumbles from a mast to the deck. No longer able to walk, the captain orders him thrown overboard.

Victor washes ashore in England where a kind old shepherd nurses him back to health. Unable to support another mouth, the shepherd sells Victor to two men who transport him to London atop a corpse inside a coffin. Victor never forgets this harrowing experience, but it is the first of many lessons he must learn, for these men are body snatchers. The friends he makes as a street urchin and the doctor who treats him after a severe beating provide Victor with hope. His greatest trial comes when his friends mysteriously disappear, and he must overcome his fears to rescue them.

Welsh doesnít sugarcoat this Victorian world, and while the story may be unsavory and disgusting, he expertly weaves hope throughout the tale. He introduces the reader to the reality of living in the streets during a time when medical experimentation required bodies no matter what the cost. Resurrection Men demonstrates the cruelties of life and how children learn to cope, to adapt. It is not a tale for the faint of heart, but those who venture into its darkness will be richly rewarded for daring to do so.


(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, May 2007)

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THE SHILOH SISTERS
Michael Kilian
Berkley Prime Crime, 2004

Cover Art: The
                                Shiloh SistersOne evening in 1862, the wife of an influential congressman visits General Ulysses S. Grantís headquarters. She fears for her sister, the wife of a Confederate officer, and requests a pass to cross into enemy territory. Against his better judgment, Grant agrees. When the Confederate Army attacks the next day, the general must deal with more important matters than his concern for the womanís safety. After the bloody Battle of Shiloh, both women are found murdered and embalmed on the Union side of the line.

Having been sent west to thwart Confederate plans, Harrison Raines finds himself under suspicion of being an enemy spy. When Grant learns that Raines is actually a U.S. Secret Service agent, the general enlists Rainesí help to discover the murdererís identity. The answer lies in Corinth, Mississippi, a town held by the Confederate Army and teeming with soldiers, gamblers, prisoners, and spies who want Raines dead.

The fifth title in the Harrison Raines Civil War Mystery series, Shiloh Sisters provides an intimate and brutal look at war and evil. Kilianís depiction of the Battle of Shiloh sets the stage for a curious puzzle that seems to have more twists and turns than a serpent. The inclusion of Louise Devereux, a returning character whose life is irretrievably entwined with Raines, keeps the reader guessing from beginning to end of a mystery deftly told.


(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, May 2008)

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TROUBLE BREWING
Dolores Gordon-Smith
Severn House, 2012

Cover Art: Trouble BrewingOn a friendís recommendation, Harold Rushton Hunt, owner of Hunt Coffee, asks Jack Haldean to find out what happened to his great-nephew. No one has seen Mark Helston since he left his home in January, and Scotland Yard hasnít turned up any clues. Has he been kidnapped? Is he dead? Did he kill someone and run away? To complicate matters, Hunt believes somethingís wrong within the company, but is Mark responsible?

With the help of friends, Jack investigates the suspects: Huntís son who runs the business, Markís sister who gains a bigger inheritance with Mark dead, her second husband whoís on the brink of bankruptcy, or might it be someone else entirely? Once Jack discovers the first body, others soon follow, and each new clue adds another wrinkle in a puzzling case.

Set in the Twenties, this is the sixth Jack Haldean mystery. Readers will have no trouble diving in without having read the previous titles in the series. Solving the mystery, however, may be more challenging. This fast-paced page-turner has more twists than a serpent, yet itís easy to follow and the ending may surprise even the most die-hard mystery fan. Great read!


(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, August 2012)

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UNTIL OUR LAST EMBRACE

Joyce and Jim Lavene
Thomas Bouregy & Co/Avalon Books, 2001

Cover
                                    Art: Until Our Last EmbraceA phone call rescues Sharyn Howard, sheriff of Diamond Springs, from fixing the plumbing in her mother's house. Darva Richmond, whose brother-in-law died during the investigation of a previous case, is found dead at a campsite in the North Carolina woods. Evidence points to a renegade bear as the culprit, but Sam Two Rivers, the tracker sent to locate the bear, suggests otherwise.

The most likely murder suspect is Darva's husband because he was the only other person at the campground, but Donald's in-laws had their own reasons for getting rid of Darva. While Nick Thomopolis examines the body, Sharyn thinks the death is an accident until the investigation turns up evidence to support Sam's conclusion. When Darva's aunt arrives with letters, Donald once again becomes the prime suspect.

While Sharyn tries to sort out fact from fiction, she also contends with Jack Winter, the district attorney. She's wary of him and his manipulations, but he wants to personalize their relationship. Her refusal promises to make her job even more difficult. At the same time, she must come to terms with her mother's impending marriage to Senator Talbot, a friend of Winter and a man Sharyn distrusts.

This fourth installment in the series is by far the best one yet. The dynamics between Sharyn and Nick heat up while those involving Winter promise that he will be a villain to despise when he and Sharyn finally have their showdown in a future installment. Unraveling the twists and turns of Darva's death will prevent readers from closing the book. Those who haven't read the previous books need not worry. Until Our Last Embrace contains enough information to allow anyone to enjoy this delectable mystery, and the sinister teaser at the end promises that readers will return for the next case Sharyn Howard tackles.


(Originally reviewed for Ivy Quill Reviews)

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Copyright © 2020 Cindy Vallar



Home About Me Appearances & Book Signings Editing Services
Excerpts of My Stories Gallery: Clan Cameron Gallery: Rebel & Spy Gallery: Scottish Highlands Workshops
Gallery: Thistle's Scotland 1 Gallery: Thistle's Scotland 2 Historical Fiction vs. History My Interviews & Other Writings
My Research Resources My Reviews & Website Awards Pirates & Privateers Recommended Books to Read
Recommended Research Links Workshop Offerings & Schedule





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