Book Review: The White Feather Murders by Rachel McMillan

Finishing a wonderful book series always has its pluses and minuses. The great thing? A wrapped-up storyline and a picture of what happily-ever-after looks like for the characters. The sad thing? Saying goodbye with these two words: “The End”. The ending of The White Feather Murders (book 3 in series) by Rachel McMillan had all the right elements to be satisfactory while leaving room to dream and wonder about the future of the characters of the Herringford and Watts Mysteries. (and, with recent bookish news from Rachel, I don’t think this is the last we’ll hear about this troupe.)

*note: I think these books should be read in order for the best possible literary experience. If you haven’t yet, go check out books 1 & 2 first!*

About the Book

The White Feather Murders by Rachel McMillan

Uncommon Heroes…or Unsuspecting Victims?

Toronto, 1914. Merinda Herringford and Jem Watts never could have imagined their crime-solving skills would set them up as emblems of female empowerment in a city preparing to enter World War I at the behest of Great Britain. Yet, despite their popularity, the lady detectives can’t avoid the unrest infiltrating every level of society.

A war measure adopted by Mayor Montague puts a target on Jem and her Italian husband, Ray DeLuca. Meanwhile, deep-rooted corruption in the police force causes their friend, Constable Jasper Forth, to wonder if his thirst for upholding the law would be best quenched elsewhere.

In spite of these distractions, Merinda, Ray, and Jasper join with other honorable and courageous city leaders in the Cartier Club, which exists to provide newly arrived residents of Toronto with a seamless integration in the city.

When a club member turns up dead, bearing a slanderous white feather, will Merinda, Jem, and those they hold dear be able to solve the high-stakes mystery before they’re all picked off, one by one?

Review

One important tidbit you won’t glean from reading the synopsis is the presence of a 5th lead character: the city of Toronto. Toronto is much more than a setting — it’s shown as a living, breathing, and ever-changing entity through author Rachel McMillan’s pen and Jem and Merinda’s eyes. It establishes the tone for the series, exposing a “slice of life” in the 1910s that was as tumultuous as it was vibrant. The city, in a way, is essential in shaping each of the (other) four main characters as much as it influences their lives and propels them into another mystery. The conflict of the looming Great War, along with its political struggles, adds complexity in introducing immigration and patriotism as new story layers and challenges.

It’s not all seriousness and mystery, though! This story is witty twists and turns, lady detectives, bowler hats, Sherlockian reasoning, suspect political leaders, a flamboyant peacock, the frenzied start of WWI, and plenty of Italian mumblings from Ray and “Cracker Jacks!” exclamations from Merinda. It’s fun and just light enough to be a cozy mystery while delving a little deeper into themes of friendship and purpose.

Speaking of friendship, my FAVORITE part of this book (and this series, really), is the way friendship is portrayed. With four main characters and their unique roles, the relationship dynamics have ample time to evolve and grow to a remarkable maturity. The complexity of it all is more than just a camaraderie or temporary commitment among the four. No, it’s a lifelong purpose, the intermingling of a complimentary partnership for Jem and Merinda, a romance for Ray and Jem (and just how that affects the aforementioned partnership), a reliance and trust for them all depending on the honorable Jasper, and a bit of unrequited love where Jasper and Merinda are concerned. It’s beautiful and messy and truth-filled.

Bravo to Rachel for ending this series the way it does! Some might say a few details are handled unconventionally for the genre, but I think those little conclusions are what make this story shine on the shelf. This book is everything I wanted it to be — and everything I didn’t realize I needed it to be. It’s like craving Oreo cookies with an ice cold glass of milk and getting a hot chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream instead. It’s still that combination of chocolate and creamy goodness, but a thousand times better (yet distinctly different). I will still want Oreos at some point, but I’m much happier with the surprising brownies. This story might be better suited, though, to a comparison involving lemons or Turkish coffee :)!

Thank you to Harvest House Publishers for the complimentary review copy. This review reflects my honest opinion.

See what I thought of the previous books/novellas in the series~

#0.5 A Singular & Whimsical Problem | #1 The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder

#1.5 Of Dubious and Questionable Memory | #2 A Lesson in Love and Murder 

#2.5 Conductor of Light

About the Author
Rachel McMillanRachel McMillan is a keen history enthusiast and a lifelong bibliophile. When not writing or reading, she can most often be found drinking tea and watching British miniseries. Rachel lives in bustling Toronto, where she works in educational publishing and pursues her passion for art, literature, music, and theater.

Rachel’s Bookish ramblings are housed at A Fair Substitute For Heaven

Twitter: @rachkmc

Instagram: @rachkmc

Facebook: rachkmc1

Pinterest: @rachkmc

 

 

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Mini Review: “Conductor of Light” by Rachel McMillan (FREE ebook!)

Today’s mini review features a short installment from Rachel McMillan in the Herringford and Watts Mysteries series. Conductor of Light is a FREE ebook-only short story which falls into the series as # 2.5 (after A Lesson in Love and Murder).
conductor-of-lightThis is classic Jem & Merinda, Ray & Jasper shenanigans. All centered around theatre– and obviously touting Rachel’s own love for that storytelling medium. If you’re not familiar with this lovable group of characters, you should know that the ladies are a female embodiment of Sherlock Holmes & Watson while the men are classic gentlemen reporter and police detective, respectively — all against a backdrop of early 1900s Toronto with its ever-changing environment. This story was another treat and glimpse “behind the curtain” of the characters as they work together to solve a little mystery. It just made me more excited for things to come in the conclusion of the series this year. (Especially a particular romance I hope will FINALLY work out. Rachel, you-know-who.)

snatch this story for FREE on Amazon

More about the story:

Toronto, 1912
A seemingly forgettable evening of second-rate vaudeville entertainment proves lethal when Constable Jasper Forth and reporter Ray DeLuca witness the onstage death of the actor Stephano. Was this the performance of a lifetime or merely opening night of the next intriguing case for Jem DeLuca and Merinda Herringford?

Hiding from Toronto’s dreaded Morality Squad in the back alleyway of the theater, Jem and Merinda encounter a mysterious musician who steps out of the shadows to tell them a murder has occurred inside.

Jasper and Ray join the detective duo backstage and begin to interview the rest of the troupe, a veritable casting call of possible suspects, every one of them with more motives than talent. Can Jem and Merinda foil this plot before a fatal encore ensues?

This Herringford and Watts adventure in four acts will keep you on the edge of your seat until the final curtain closes on yet another enthralling whodunit.

Review: “A Lesson in Love and Murder” by Rachel McMillan

Join me today as we return to early 20th century Toronto (and Chicago!) with the notable lady detectives, Jem and Merinda, subjects of Rachel McMillan’s latest novel, A Lesson in Love and Murder. A delightful (and somewhat short) read, it furthers the story of these two as they find another adventure amongst dangerous criminal activities and a couple very eligible bachelors.

About the Book

From political danger to personal drama, life is about to get explosive…

The legacy of literary icon Sherlock Holmes is alive and well in 1912 Canada, where best friends Merinda Herringford and Jem Watts continue to develop their skills as consulting detectives.
a-lesson-in-love-and-murderThe city of Toronto has been thrown into upheaval by the arrival of radical anarchist Emma Goldman. Amid this political chaos, Benny Citrone of the Royal North-West Mounted Police arrives at Merinda and Jem’s flat, requesting assistance in locating his runaway cousin—a man with a deadly talent.

While Merinda eagerly accepts the case, she finds herself constantly butting heads—and hearts—with Benny. Meanwhile, Jem has her hands full with a husband who is determined to keep her out of harm’s way.

As Merinda and Jem close in on the danger they’ve tracked from Toronto to Chicago, they uncover a sinister plot to assassinate presidential candidate Theodore Roosevelt. Will they be able to save the day and resolve the troubles threatening their future happiness before it’s too late?

Independence, love, and lives are at stake in A Lesson in Love and Murder, the gripping second installment of the Herringford and Watts Mysteries series.

 

ReviewThis is another classic Jem and Merinda tale! We readers are slowly watching these two girls mature as they settle into private detective life. To elaborate on the adventure, action, and serious drama they traipse through during a case that takes them away from home and to bustling Chicago would be to reveal too much of the mystery and delight contained between the pages. Instead, I will outline a few observations of the growth of the characters themselves within this latest story.

Jem is coming into her own with more boldness and determination, which I think is a result of her now-married status, though Ray would scoff to think he’s encouraging her daring vocation in any way. Merinda has matured from her first ventures on the page, too, though hers is a slower and more subtle change. With this book, we glimpse her heart and deep caring friendship with Jem, though Merinda tries to hide the fact behind a toughened exterior. Merinda is at somewhat of a crossroads in her personal life, trying to hold on to her camaraderie with Jem while knowing the nature of their relationship is different now that Ray’s in the picture. And, a new maybe-love-interest for her is shifting her opinion on the possibility of a happily ever after.

For those of you reading this book just for Ray and Jasper, have no fear, they are back and just as stubborn as ever when it comes to their determination to be heroes. Jem and Merinda don’t put up with that for a second. Gladly, we do get to learn more about the both of them. And there’s a new man in town — also in uniform — a mountie, no less, of the Royal North-West Mounted Police. Benfield Citrone, or Benny, proves to be heroic in his own way, bringing a new contrast to the story in light of his wilderness background.

While it has its lighter and humorous moments, it still boasts a dramatic story dealing with real issues and hints at spiritual themes of trust. Rachel McMillan manages to capture the serious and enchanting moments of everyday life, the happiness and constant struggle, within the oppositions Jem and Merinda face in this story. While much is resolved by the story’s end, I am quite anxious to know how certain predicaments will be resolved in the upcoming novella and then series conclusion. Thankfully, they release in December and May, respectively, so I won’t have to wait long!

Sincere thanks to the publisher for a complimentary review copy.

See my thoughts on other books in this series:

#0.5 A Singular and Whimsical Problem

#1 The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder (and author interview)

#1.5 Of Dubious and Questionable Memory

Review & Interview with the Author: “The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder” by Rachel McMillan

Review & Interview with the Author: “The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder” by Rachel McMillan

I’m so excited today because I get to feature an early review and interview with an awesome debut author and blogger friend, Rachel McMillan! If you are fortunate enough to follow Rachel via social media, you know she has quite the unique sense of humor. Let me just tell you, she communicates that wit and flair with her writing style, too. It combines in the best possible way in her debut novel with Harvest House, The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder.  This is book #1 in her “Herringford and Watts Mysteries” series. It releases in ebook format on March 1 and paperback April 1.

By the way, there is a current Goodreads giveaway open for this book through April 15th. Click here to enter it!

(If you will recall, I reviewed the prequel novella, A Singular and Whimsical Problem, here.)

About the BookThe Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder by Rachel McMillan In 1910 Toronto, while other bachelor girls perfect their domestic skills and find husbands, two friends perfect their sleuthing skills and find a murderer.

Inspired by their fascination with all things Sherlock Holmes, best friends and flatmates Merinda and Jem launch a consulting detective business. The deaths of young Irish women lead Merinda and Jem deeper into the mire of the city’s underbelly, where the high hopes of those dreaming to make a new life in Canada are met with prejudice and squalor.

While searching for answers, donning disguises, and sneaking around where no proper ladies would ever go, they pair with Jasper Forth, a police constable, and Ray DeLuca, a reporter in whom Jem takes a more than professional interest. Merinda could well be Toronto’s premiere consulting detective, and Jem may just find a way to put her bachelor girlhood behind her forever–if they can stay alive long enough to do so.

ReviewThis story is fun and sweet, with just enough action and mystery to propel story while the characters worm their way into your heart in-between the exciting moments! The unique setting and era alone are vivid and memorable. Rachel has combined meticulous research and her imagination resulting in a setting with both historical significance and imagined whimsy (like fictitious public figures and morality squads).

Eccentric is the perfect word for Merinda, while Jem is the romantic and grounded best friend who gets pulled along on their adventures. I like how Jem’s perspective is the one we get to experience the most. In many cases, “sidekicks” stay in the shadows of a feisty heroine, but let me tell you, Jem is no weak wallflower (though she might think of herself as one).

Jasper and Ray, our ladies’ romantic interests, are both thoughtful and protective when necessary. Ray, which we get to know best, is possibly my favorite character of the novel! He gets tangled in the mystery the girls are trying to solve and proves quite the distraction for Jem. Rachel McMillan’s talent and ability to write romantic tension between Ray and Jem is another favorite part of mine! I mean, the perfect recipe for a fictional heartthrob is Italian gibberish, flirting, bad poetry, and refreshing honesty, right? 🙂

I hope we see more of Ray and his sister Viola’s sibling relationship in later stories! (and with the setting of book 2, I have a feeling we will.) They have a sweet, caring relationship. Ray’s personal character is revealed in the way he treats his sister and the extent of his sacrifice for her.

To briefly address one aspect of the humor of this story, I want to say Rachel’s “footnotes” are awesome. Sometimes they offer short explanations or brief tongue-in-cheek asides as though from a narrator. This type of story device is unique and rarely (if ever?) used in this genre, so it’s all the more effective in adding a touch of style and comedy.

Underneath the layers of independent feminine spirit, witty dialogue, nods to Sherlock Holmes, criminal motives, and humorous prose is a story of finding purpose and belonging. It imparts that sometimes life doesn’t play out like the fairy tale you would imagine. Sometimes it’s messy, quite different, and ok that way. Sometimes it’s just achieving a simple dream. But sometimes, God’s plan for your life is even better than you could imagine. And He will use the most unlikely people and circumstances for His purposes.

To end my gushing review, I will say that this is a must-read! Personally, I’m very excited for the adventures of these characters later this year in the novella Of Dubious and Questionable Memory and book 2, A Lesson in Love and Murder.

Thank you to Rachel McMillan, Harvest House, and Netgalley for providing copies of this novel in exchange for my honest review.

Interview with the Author

Rachel was very gracious and happy to answer all of my questions! Read on for a little behind-the-scenes info on this book and some fun trivia about Rachel. 

What inspired you to write The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder?

My agent was shopping a historical romance of mine and we were having no luck.  She came back from ICRS (a big Christian book conference ) and said that the buzz was around Romantic Suspense.  She knew (I am not very quiet about this fact!)  that I am a lifelong Sherlock Holmes nut. So, she suggested a female Sherlock Holmes.  I  spent an entire weekend at a favourite coffee shop here in Toronto and developed an entire world and met Jem and Merinda, Jasper and Ray along the way.   So, I kinda fell into being a mystery writer.  I read mystery all the time!  It is one of my favourite genres— but writing it? That was a new challenge.  Thus, you’ll notice that Jem and Merinda stumble into a few answers along the way and trip up—they’re learning how to be detectives just as I am learning how to WRITE about detectives.

What message or spiritual theme do you want to communicate to readers with The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder?

The spiritual theme to this series is more subtle than you might find in other Christian Fiction but that was purposeful: in order to reach as wide a readership as possible in an accessible way.  That being said, as a Christian, I see the world from a Christian worldview and each of the relationships I pursue in the book reflect some kind of question I have had in my own faith walk.     Indeed, I like to look at Christianity as being a lot like the Watson and Sherlock relationship: Watson acts on faith that Sherlock is omniscient and he believes wholly in Sherlock’s deductive powers.  Much as we believe in our Higher Power—even though, like Watson, we may have to wait for the big reveal and the answers hidden until the end.

The scripture I followed for Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder was Prov 31:8  Speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. I pursue this with a hero for whom English is a second language and  often a barrier  as well as women and immigrants who lived in a time period where they were not given the right for their voices to be heard. The book I am working on now –A Lesson in Love and Murder– is very much a look at anarchy and submission.  The spiritual themes are deft but definitely there 🙂

Overall, I want women to feel empowered even if they don’t fit into what they think is expected of them. The Bible features Marys and Marthas but Deborahs and Esthers, too!

What was most challenging about writing a story set in early 1900s Toronto?

Writing the voice is a huge part of it!  Honestly, we have this lax way of speaking that just doesn’t sound authentic when transposed into the early 20th Century.  I mention in my author’s note I do take a lot of liberties in creating Jem and Merinda’s world. But, like the historical fiction I love best, I wanted to capture and create the essence of a world – in hopes of inspiring readers to read more about the time period.  The challenges come in little things that we think of all the time….    For one example, allergies!   In my novella A Singular and Whimsical Problem I have a heroine who is allergic to cats.  But did Edwardian people even know about allergies? I had to go look it up.   I have also looked up doorbells and, most recently, whether men wore wedding rings.

To add, Toronto looks very different now: sure there are buildings and neighbourhoods that were around in Jem and Merinda’s time, but the look different and are surrounded by skyscrapers!  I really have to make sure I am pulling back that modern curtain to see the city as they would rather than how Rachel does .

I spent a ton of time at the archives here in Toronto and looking through photographs: which gave me a sense of the fashion, the streetcars, the police and, of course, the day to day life of a cosmopolitan city of yesteryear.

Which character was your favorite to write? (ahem, I think I can guess the answer to this one….) 

They’re all my friends.  When I submitted the first book to my agent to be sent out into the world of editors I cried. I knew I would miss them so much.   I am one half Jem, one half Merinda –so they’re very close to me. And, because this is a six part  series, I am at the point where they talk for themselves and I just take dictation.  In book 2 you get to meet Benny Citrone, a Mountie! And he is a lot of fun to write, too.
But I do have a soft spot for Ray: partly because he just showed up!  He factored in my outline as a secondary character but once he started talking he wouldn’t stop. I really have very little control over him. He goes and does what he likes, and says what he likes and I am just as surprised as the reader.  While each character is a delight, the unexpected things that Ray gets up to keep me on my toes and that is part of the fun of the process. Often when Jem is gushing about Ray, she is using my voice. I truly love him.

Just for fun: Do you have any hobbies?

I really love to read!  ( shocking! )  and I reallllly love to go to the theatre! I am a huge Broadway buff and we get a lot of theatre here in Toronto so I am often checking it out. I am a huge baseball fan. I watch the Toronto Blue Jays all the time ( especially with my laptop in my lap writing away) and I go to as many games as possible during the season.

If you could live in any other time period in history, which would it be and why?

I am a die hard nut for the  Victorian era. I think it would be very difficult to live there because I am so accustomed to our modern privileges but I would love to live in Victorian England for a day.  My degree at University was in Victorian Literature so that period is one of my true loves.

What are you currently reading?

Time of Fog and Fire by Rhys Bowen who is a favourite mystery writer of mine.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E Schwab.

About the Author
Rachel McMillanRachel McMillan is a keen history enthusiast and a lifelong bibliophile. When not writing or reading, she can most often be found drinking tea and watching British miniseries. Rachel lives in bustling Toronto, where she works in educational publishing and pursues her passion for art, literature, music, and theater.

Rachel’s Bookish ramblings are housed at A Fair Substitute For Heaven 

Twitter: @rachkmc

Instagram: @rachkmc

Facebook: rachkmc1

Pinterest: @rachkmc

Add The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder on Goodreads Add to Goodreads

Review: The Prayers of Jane Austen, edited by Terry Glaspey

I dearly hope, whoever you are, you’re familiar with Jane Austen (unless you have been horribly deprived of literature or classic films). But, are you aware of her faith? Her novels weave themes of moral character, kindness, and compassion which stem from Austen’s own upbringing and environment. I recently had the opportunity to learn more about Jane Austen’s faith through a sweet little book, The Prayers of Jane Austen.

The Prayers of Jane Austen 2The past few weeks, I’ve been a part of a fun read-along which included this book and Persuasion. You can see my favorite quotes from Persuasion here.

Book info: You know Jane Austen as the beloved author of Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and other witty, insightful novels of the early nineteenth century. Now come to know her as a woman of unexpected spiritual depth. Jane Austen wrote beautiful, heartfelt prayers for use during her family’s evening devotions. Each one reveals her gratitude for God’s blessings and her pursuit of a holy life—expressions of a woman whose heart was profoundly moved by faith.

In this beautifully designed book, author Terry Glaspey introduces you to Jane Austen the Christian by sharing this powerful collection of prayers and also a glimpse into her life story and the impact she had as a writer of virtue, character, and morality.

The Prayers of Jane Austen 1My thoughts: This really is a beautiful compilation of 3 prayers. The informative forward and commentary connects the spiritual depth of the prayers with the more well-known lifestyle of Jane Austen. She was not a lady who was outspoken and public concerning her deep faith, but these prayers are evidence of her heart and a clear basis for the morals expressed in her stories.

The prayers reveal Austen’s thankful demeanor, her genuine care for others, and her humble opinion of herself. The book itself is attractive and simple in design — a quick read. It contains sketch illustrations from the British Library’s collections, which remind the reader of the era when paired with the flowing language familiar to Austen readers.

I would highly recommend this book for anyone who loves classic literature or Jane Austen. I think it would also make a perfect little gift!

Additional info on the editor/author of The Prayers of Jane Austen:

Terry Glaspey has degrees in history and pastoral ministry and is the author of several books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know and Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis.

Links:

Purchase on the Harvest House website: http://bit.ly/1INVSLM

Add on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23883181-the-prayers-of-jane-austen

Join the conversation on Twitter: #InspiredByAusten

Join the conversation on Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/seasonshumility/inspired-by-austen/

Thank you to Harvest House Publishers for a review copy in exchange for my honest review. And to Amber and Terry Glaspey for the hardback copy!