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Review – Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley

Death Below StairsDeath Below Stairs is a historical mystery and it is set during the reign of Queen Victoria (after Albert died). It is the first in a new series.

Here’s the blurb:

Highly sought-after young cook Kat Holloway takes a position in a Mayfair mansion and soon finds herself immersed in the odd household of Lord Rankin. Kat is unbothered by the family’s eccentricities as long as they stay away from her kitchen, but trouble finds its way below stairs when her young Irish assistant is murdered.

Intent on discovering who killed the helpless kitchen maid, Kat turns to the ever-capable Daniel McAdam, who is certainly much more than the charming delivery man he pretends to be. Along with the assistance of Lord Rankin’s unconventional sister-in-law and a mathematical genius, Kat and Daniel discover that the household murder was the barest tip of a plot rife with danger and treason—one that’s a threat to Queen Victoria herself.

Review:

The main protagonist is Kat Holloway, a cook in Lord Rankin’s employ. Kat is new to the job, and she takes her work seriously. Her assistant is found dead—murdered—in the pantry, and Kat feels responsible for the girl. Everyone thinks the murder is a robbery gone wrong, but Kat thinks differently and starts to investigate. Along the way, she recruits people to help her learn who murdered Sinead—-her friend the mysterious Daniel, another friend of Daniel’s who is a whiz with math and accounts, and the eccentric Lady Cynthia who prefers to dress as a man.

Kat is a professional when it comes to her cooking and this book is full of interesting cooking details plus mentions of what the family ate for dinner. I enjoyed these fascinating snippets just as much as the mystery part of the plot.

The characters are fascinating since they run the gamut of social ladder, yet they pull together to solve the mystery of Sinead’s murder. Kat has strength and integrity while Daniel is a man of mystery. He loves and cares for his teenage son and it’s obvious he has a thing for Kat. The romantic thread between the two is subtle, but it’s there and made me happy.

The characters pull this story along and kept the plot moving at a steady pace until the climax when we discover why the murder happened and who did it. The plot kept me guessing and the way it intersected with the politics and problems of the time made this an entertaining read. If you enjoy historical mysteries with well-rounded characters and a fast-moving plot, you’ll enjoy Death Below Stairs as much as I did.

Scandal Above Stairs, book two in the series released recently, and I enjoyed that one just as much.

For a quick introduction to Kat and Daniel you can also check out A Soupcon of Poison, which is a short story.

A Soupcon of Poison – Amazon
Death Below Stairs – Amazon
Scandal Above Stairs – Amazon

Real Life Cat Burglars

A cat burglar is a thief who breaks into homes to steal personal property. They take their name from real life cats since cats are stealthy, quiet creatures that approach their prey without causing alarm.

The human variety of cat burglar slips inside unnoticed, taking what he wants and disappearing again before the victim notices a theft has occurred. Essentially, a cat burglar breaks and enters. It’s against the law yet cat burglars have appeared in some of my favorite romance stories and movies.

Today I thought I’d tell you about two real-life cat burglars.

Estate agent, Bill Mason plundered more than $70 million worth of jewels over three decades. According to him there was no thrill quite so big as hanging from a parapet 200 feet above the ground while a hoard of diamonds and gold was only a few feet away, his for the taking, if he could hold his nerve.

He was attractive, charismatic and debonair with old-age mystique and very good at his job, never once resorting to violence. He lived a double life for twenty-five years, married to his childhood sweetheart, Barbara. He drove his three kids to school and sports matches, invited the neighbors over for barbeques and worked in his legitimate property business. At night, he robbed the rich, sinking the funds from his heists into real estate and investments. His wife had no idea and assumed his money came from hard work and judicious borrowing. He always had a good excuse for his night time absences.

According to Mason, he had a good head for heights and worked to maintain strong hands because a thief needs to find one way to get inside that no one expects and that means climbing.

The FBI finally caught up with him and he did a stint in prison. You can read his story in Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief

The second cat burglar is of the feline variety. Frankie, a two-year-old cat has stolen 35 plush toys during the last year. He skulks into houses, steals their small stuffed animals and takes his ill-gotten gains home, sneaking them through his cat flap. His owner, Julie Bishop, says, “He doesn’t really play with them. He dumps them in the same spot at home and goes looking for more.”

Frankie has collected stuffed teddy bears, a giant squeaky hamburger but favors a small leopard toy. He has more than a dozen of the same spotted leopard toy. Here’s a link to the story plus a photo of Frankie with some of his stolen loot. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/us_world/2008/12/10/2008-12-10_reallife_cat_burglar_stealing_kitty_toys.html

Because I’ve enjoyed reading cat burglar romances in the past, I decided to write my own. Let me introduce Cat Burglar in Training.

Cat Burglar in Training

Here is the blurb:

Eve Fawkner had no intention of following in her father’s footsteps. But when the thugs harassing him to repay his gambling debts threaten her young daughter, Eve is forced to assume the role of London’s most notorious cat burglar, The Shadow. The plan is simple: pull off a couple of heists, pay back the goons and go into permanent retirement. But things get messy during her first job when Eve witnesses a murder, stumbles across a clue that sheds some light on her past and, worst of all, falls for a cop.

Inspector Kahu Williams would be the perfect man, if Eve were looking, and if there wasn’t the little matter of their career conflict. The man is seriously hot—and hot on the trail of a murderer. A trail that keeps leading him back to Eve…

Grab your copy at: Carina Press| Amazon | All Romance eBooks | Barnes & Noble| Koboicon|iBooks US| iBooks NZ

Ballet and Pas De Death

I’ve been thinking about ballet recently, which is peculiar since I have never been a ballerina and know nothing about ballet. My one experience of ballet was when we lived in London. A customer of the pub where we worked gave us two tickets to attend the ballet at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. It was a programme of short dances, and we enjoyed the show even though we didn’t understand a lot of what we were seeing. The thing I remember most was how noisy their shoes were since the sound of shoes scraping across the floor was easy to hear from our seats.

PasDeDeath-210x300

Pas De Death (The Dani Spevak Mystery Series)

A side note: I was looking for a ballet picture to illustrate my post and remembered fellow Romance Diva Amanda Brice has a mystery series featuring a ballet dancer. I thought I’d use the cover from her latest release and give her series a shout-out. The first book in her series is called Codename: Dancer. If your teenager is a reader and a ballet fan, you should definitely check out this series.

Now back to the reason for my post. One of our holiday stops in August will be at St. Petersburg in Russia. Since we have the opportunity to attend the ballet we’re grabbing it with both hands. After all, the Russians are very good at ballet. I believe we’ll be seeing Swan Lake.

I decided to do a little research about the history of ballet. Here are a few highlights:

1. Ballet seems to have originated in the Italian Renaissance courts during the 15th century.

2. The nobility learned the steps and danced in the performances.

3. King Louis XIV was responsible for making ballet even more popular and standardizing the dances. It’s said his passion took ballet from a hobby or interest for amateurs to entertainment carried out by professionals.

4. Until the 1730s ballet was performed mainly by men. They were able to wear tights while the women were restricted by long skirts.

5. No one is sure when pointe shoes were first used, but historians credit Marie Taglioni with dancing on pointe in the 19th century. She certainly developed the technique.

6. 18th century Marie Camargo was the first dancer to dance with shortened skirts. The audience could see her ankles and were scandalized, although they appreciated the skill of her footwork, which they could now see clearly. Tights were in common use during the late 18th century.

Sources: www.dancer.com and www.histclo.com

Are you a ballet fan? Did you learn ballet as a child? Please tell all.

The One Where Rosalind Snatches a Kiss

My-Sexy-Saturday-1024x226

Welcome to My Sexy Saturday, a fun blog hop. Here are the details: every Saturday, published and unpublished authors will be sharing 7 words, sentences, or paragraphs from a work-in-progress or an already published story.

My snippet this week comes from The Spurned Viscountess, a historical romance. Rosalind has an arranged marriage with Lucien, Viscount Hastings, and unfortunately Lucien isn’t interested in her. Rosalind is determined to grab security and have babies, so she isn’t going easy on poor Lucien. Something weird is happening at the castle and Rosalind is investigating. Lucien just happens to get in her way and she seizes the chance to further her cause. Just quietly, he doesn’t stand a chance!

MY SEXY SATURDAY:

Rosalind screwed up her face in a frown as she heard Hastings whistle to Oberon through the door. The black whickered softly in return. What was she going to say? What was she going to do? She imagined Hastings standing on the other side of the door. Excitement shot through her veins, despite her predicament.

The hinge creaked when the door opened. Rosalind watched with a combination of trepidation and anticipation. The gap widened to reveal Hastings’s shiny black boots, his mud-splattered stockings and breeches. Her eyes rose to his gray shirt and black jacket. Her mouth dried, her pulse pounding with expectancy, excitement. She swallowed and lifted her gaze to loose black hair and his…mouth. Finally, she met his astonished eyes.

Speak, she thought frantically. Quick before he asks what you are doing here. Distract. Attack. Something. Anything.

“You’re back,” she cried and planted a kiss on his beguiling lips.

He tensed. In shock or astonishment, Rosalind wasn’t sure but ceased to care. His lips were as soft as a baby’s skin. Her hands curled into his shoulders and she leaned into him, enjoying the play of hard muscles and the earthy masculine scent of him.

“What are you doing?” he demanded finally, pulling away enough to glare at her.

“I’m pleased to see you.” A stupid half-wit would sense his bewilderment. But along with confusion lay shocked enjoyment. And that, decided Rosalind, was a good thing.

TheSpurnedViscountess_200x300

BLURB:

Cursed with the sight and rumors of witchcraft, Rosalind’s only chance at an ordinary life is marriage to Lucien, Viscount Hastings. She doesn’t expect love, only security and children of her own. Determined to go through with the wedding, she allows nothing she encounters at the gloomy Castle St. Clare to dissuade her.

Recently returned from the Continent, Lucien has no time for the English mouse his family has arranged for him to marry–not when he’s plotting to avenge the murder of his beloved Francesca. He has no intention of bedding Rosalind, not even to sire an heir.

Though spurned by her bridegroom, Rosalind turns to him for protection when she is plagued by mysterious accidents and haunted by terrifying visions. Forced to keep Rosalind close–and tempted into passionate kisses–Lucien soon finds himself in danger of falling in love with his own wife…

Purchase The Spurned Viscountess

To read more Sexy Saturday posts, check out the links at My Sexy Saturday

Sleep, My Friend!

Sleep, Shanghai

Sleepy Worker, Shanghai

Today I’m really excited to visit my friend Mary at Dark Thoughts….Without sleep we become tall two-year-olds. Read more at Dark Thoughts

About once a month I blog over at Not Your Usual Suspects, which is a blog about romance, mystery and suspense. If you like a dead body in your fiction, you need to visit us.

So… we are going to celebrate by giving away lots and lots of downloads from the multi-published, multi-talented NYUS writers. To enter, just go to

Not Your Usual Suspects

and leave a comment at the announcement post or email our Fearless Leader at

CLARELONDON11 at YAHOO . CO . UK (you know how to make that work). Just one email, please…

On THURSDAY 25 JULY we’ll make the draw. Clare will contact each winner in turn by email, and then it’ll be. FIRST COME, FIRST SERVED for the winner’s choice of author’s work. So take a look at the announcement post and have your first few choices in mind!

I hope to see you during my visits!

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A Day in the Life of Eve Fawkner, Cat Burglar in Training

Cat Burglar in Training

Today I’m visiting Romancing the Book where Eve Fawkner, my heroine from Cat Burglar in Training is running the show. There’s also a copy of Cat Burglar in Training up for grabs by one commenter. Here’s the link to Romancing the Book.

A Random Post About T-shirts

As I sit here writing this post, I’m wearing a T-shirt (purchased at Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump in Canada) and shorts. My favorite summer outfit. When the days grow shorter and the temperatures become cooler, my uniform changes to a T-shirt and jeans. I love T-shirts. Read more at the Carina Press blog.

London: Haunt of a Cat Burglar in Training

London. It’s a place I dreamed of visiting after hearing the poem about Christopher Robin and Alice as a child. Do you know the one I mean? Here’s the first verse:

Buckingham Palace
by A.A. Milne

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
Alice is marrying one of the guard.
"A soldier’s life is terribly hard,"
Says Alice.

Luckily I was able to persuade my husband that London was a good idea, and off we went on our overseas experience. Fast forward many years, and it was inevitable that some of my experience would find its way into my writing.

Today is the release date for Cat Burglar in Training, which is partially set in London. Eve Fawkner, my trainee cat burglar attends balls in various London locations and her receiver lives in Kensington, an area I’m familiar with since we lived there for several years.

Here are a few photos from the Kensington/Knightsbridge area. These are places Eve sees or drives past on a regular basis. (Scroll over the photos for info or click on them to enlarge.)

BTW – London was everything I dreamed it would be!

Harrods, Knightsbridge, London at night Kensington Gardens, London

Kensington Palace after a snow fall, London Albert Memorial, Kensington near Royal Albert Hall

The Goat Tavern, Kensington, London.  Horseguards, Rotten Row, London


CatBurglar_SM

Here’s the blurb:

Eve Fawkner had no intention of following in her father’s footsteps. But when the thugs harassing him to repay his gambling debts threaten her young daughter, Eve is forced to assume the role of London’s most notorious cat burglar, The Shadow. The plan is simple: pull off a couple of heists, pay back the goons and go into permanent retirement. But things get messy during her first job when Eve witnesses a murder, stumbles across a clue that sheds some light on her past and, worst of all, falls for a cop.

Inspector Kahu Williams would be the perfect man, if Eve were looking, and if there wasn’t the little matter of their career conflict. The man is seriously hot—and hot on the trail of a murderer. A trail that keeps leading him back to Eve…

Purchase today from Carina Press

Is there a place you dreamed of visiting as a child?

Top Pick! First Review for The Spurned Viscountess

I was delighted with this review I received from Night Owl Romances. It’s actually my very first review for The Spurned Viscountess. I’m glad it’s a good one.

“Shelley Munro’s revised story is a beautiful, adventurous tale of the strength of love and forgiveness. Set in 1720 England, the landscape is so well defined that the reader is immediately drawn back to the past. With hints of a gothic story, the tale moves along at a quick pace with hints of mystery and a very satisfying romance. The characters are evocative with the reader quickly sympathizing with Rosalind and Lucien, though troubled by the past, is definitely a hero of the first order.” TOP PICK.

Here’s the link to the entire review at NOR

Lost & Wandering

Wanderlust I’m visiting Nikki Duncan’s blog today where I’m talking about traveling and books. There’s a download of Wanderlust up for grabs. Comment on my post and you’re in the draw.

I’m also doing a guest spot at The Romance Studio Blue about a particular weakness of mine–my total lack of a sense of direction. Just ask my husband. :grin: