Book Review: The Tiara Mystery

1880s stage, cat, and fliers for "The Case of the MISSING TIARA"

Book Cover

The Tiara Mystery, Karen Meyer (Sable Creek Press, 2016)

150 pp. At the time of this review (9/30/17), it had not been reviewed on Barnes & Noble; it holds a 5-star review on Amazon with 2 reviews.

Cover Design, Diane King

Middle Grade Historical Fiction

Book Obtained By: Purchased from author after talking with her at the fall 2016 Genoa Township Bicentennial Celebration in Genoa Township, Ohio.

My Chocolate Rating on Scale of 5: 3.5 Reese’s Peanut-Butter Eggs, Hearts, or trees (stick-to-your stomach good)


From the jacket

Stolen silver. A crash in the night. What is happening at Russell House?

Claire Russell’s family will be evicted in two months if Papa can’t pay the bank. He says to trust the Lord, but Claire is desperately worried. When her twin brother Reuben writes a play, he and Claire enlist their boarders, their neighbors, and young Orville Wright to act in it. The Countess has so much enthusiasm for her role as the Queen, she even agrees to wear her valuable tiara as a part of her costume. Will the ticket sales be enough to save the family’s Victorian boarding house?

One by one strange things continue to happen until the night of the play, when the biggest catastrophe of all unfolds. When the thief catchers, Claire, Reuben, and Orville, unite to follow the thief’s trail, they face some big surprises. Can Mr. Drummond be trusted? And will Claire ever learn to give her fears to God?


The Tiara Mystery, Karen Meyer (Sable Creek Press, 2016)

Image of a young boy in 1876s clothing

1876 photo of Orville Wright, Public Domain Image from the US Library of Congress

Karen Meyer attended the fall 2016 Genoa Township Bicentennial Celebration. She took a few minutes to talk with me. Since I planned to write a historical fiction YA, I wanted to see how she’d tackled it for middle grade. She has written half a dozen historical books set throughout Ohio—Datyon, Marietta, Chillicothe, and Blue Licks. She also attends schools to give “pioneer days” discussions, dressed as a hardworking woman of the late 1800s.

This Christian story carries a strong theme of the need to give your troubles over to God. Claire, the main character, internalizes her worries. Even when she tries to give them over to God, or to let her parents do the worrying, she can’t help but dig into that trouble and hold it tight. Since her parents board other Dayton residents, the evening meal brings them all together.

Meyer unveils the mysteries one at a time, and makes sure to include Snowball, Claire’s cat, in the strange doings. The kids have their work cut out for them in hosting the play they hope will help them save their family home, but the mysteries tug at them, too. When the house creaks, is it settling, or is someone lurking in the night? It’s enough to set poor Claire on edge. Add in Reuben’s ideas for figuring out who’s stealing their silverware and more, and it’s almost more than Claire can take as the kids take steps to catch the thief. She must find a way to give her cares over to God, though, or she’ll worry herself sick.

Historic map in muted tones, a city street with horsedrawn carriage, 1870s Dayton, Ohio

Albert Ruger’s drawing of Dayton, Ohio. Available from

For the most part, the prose flowed in this third-person narrative from Claire’s point of view. The story weaves in elements of older days, like coal deliveries, boarding houses, a young Orville Wright (the famous Dayton inventor), and the foods Mama and the kids cook—cabbage is a staple. For a historical piece, I would have expected more period words to cement that older feeling, but I can’t say any jumped out at me.

Claire’s twin brother, Reuben, plays a strong role in the story, from his writing of the play to the steps he takes to pull it off and his ideas about investigating the mysteries plaguing Russell House. He’s the “courage” of the equation, but it’s Claire’s story. And Claire’s the one who forms connections—whether friendships with kids or adults; with the house she knows as home.

The ending felt rushed—to tie up the last threads, Claire writes a letter to a friend. That seemed odd, because that’s the only place in the book where Meyer uses a letter to tell the story. An Epilogue ends the novel, I think so Meyer can continue the Christian thread of the story. Claire’s storyline doesn’t need it.

Sepia photograph, an 1880s woman wearing a dark full-length dress gives a piggy back ride to a girl wearing boots and a white apron over her dark dress.

1880s playfulness, public domain. Photo seems to be by “N Tonger”

If you enjoy historical fiction, or want to imagine some of the things young Orville Wright did, before he earned his fame, settle in to read The Tiara Mystery.

Continue the Mystery:

Have you read The Tiara Mystery? What did you think? Did you guess what was causing all the strange goings on? Do you struggle with faith the way Claire does?


 Learn more about Karen Meyer:

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Book Review: Darker Still

Darker Still Cover

Darker Still: A Novel of Magic Most Foul #1, Leanna Renee Hieber (Sourcebooks fire, 2011)

317 pp. At the time of this review (9/28/17), it holds a 4-star review on Amazon with 115 reviews.

Cover Design, Andrea C. Uver

Gothic Historical; Paranormal YA

Book Obtained By: Purchased from author after talking with her at the spring 2017 Ohioana Book Festival in Columbus, Ohio.

My Chocolate Rating on Scale of 5: 4.0 Ghirardelli Salty Caramels (just shy of perfection)

From the jacket

“I was obsessed.

It was as if he called to me, demanding I reach out and touch the brushstrokes of color swirled onto the canvas. It was the most exquisite portrait I’d ever seen—everything about Lord Denbury was unbelievable… utterly breathtaking and eerily lifelike.

There was a reason for that. Because despite what everyone said, Denbury never had committed suicide. He was alive. Trapped within his golden frame.

I’ve crossed over into his world within the painting, and I’ve seen what dreams haunt him. They haunt me, too. He and I are inextricably linked—bound together to watch the darkness seeping through the gas-lit cobblestone streets of Manhattan. And unless I can free him soon, things will only get Darker Still.”


Darker Still: A Novel of Magic Most Foul #1, Leanna Renee Hieber (Sourcebook Fire, 2011)

Leanna Renee Hieber attended the 2017 Ohioana Book Festival, presenting on a panel as well as having a table in the huge room of more than one hundred authors. I’d meant to go to her panel, then decide if I wanted to buy a book—with so many local choices, and a limited wallet, I wanted to “pay back” to authors presenting when their works fit my reading tastes.

Buildings from turn of the century Manhattan, New York

Fifth Avenue, NY, 1911

But Leanna’s outfit caught my eye two hours before her panel. She’d dressed in a period costume of early nineteen hundreds, trim lines of buttons down the full length dress, white gloves, and ornate twist to her hair, secured with a ribbon. The covers of her books finished hauling me in.  Then she chatted with me about how The Picture of Dorian Grey had played an inspirational role in Darker Still and its sequel. She’d captured my interest—I love hearing other writers talk about their ideas, their process. Then I read the back cover; the first page. I bought the book.

Darker Still is written as the diary (or journal) of Miss Natalie Stewart, a mute teenager in a family with a degree of money to set them above most, but not at the top of the social ladder. True to Hieber’s description that she wanted to give voice and power to the females so often stripped of power in Victorian literature, she empowered Natalie with a keen intellect, curiosity, bravery, daring, and cunning. It could have been “too good to be true,” but Hieber balanced all of that with Natalie’s inability to talk.

From the “Gypsy” collection, turn of the century New York

With word choice and the rhythm of her words, Hieber built a Victorian Manhattan I believed. At times she let the city shine, and at others she painted the darkness, such as of the Five Points region, a perfect setting for the nefarious and occult doings around the painting that had drawn Natalie into its orbit.

The man trapped inside—will he be good or bad? With the horror occurring in the city, and Natalie’s dreams, will this man she’s attracted to prove to be good or bad? Even when I thought I knew, Hieber’s progression had me second-guessing myself.

The deeper into the story, the more the risk. Friendships develop, and rifts occur. All flow organically from the story. I never doubted what Natalie would risk to solve the mystery; but I did doubt friendships, wondering who would prove to be a true friend, and who would betray her.

The dark twists and turns paint that picture of an era where women were to be second class citizens, seen but not heard—all the more obvious with Natalie’s muteness. But lack of voice won’t force Natalie to keep her ideas to herself. Pen, paper, and gestures speak volumes.

If you enjoy horror, a tease of love and romance, the lure of magic, and a character who refuses to let society squash her individualism, grab Darker Still.

Vintage label – public domain



  • Darker Still has been named an ABA Indie Next title
  • The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess, winner of the 2012 Prism Award for Best Fantasy.

Learn more about Leanna Renee Hieber:

  • 2017 release from Tor Books,
  • at her website
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Book Review: Hold on my Heart

Book Details

Hold on my Heart, Tracy Brogan (Montlake Romance, June 25, 2013)

A woman hugs a man

Book Cover, Montlake Romance

213 pp. At the time of this review (6/12/17), it holds a 4-star review on Barnes & Noble, with only four reviews, and a 4.3-star review on Amazon with 720 reviews.

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Book Obtained By: Author give-away at COFW meeting, November, 2016.

My Chocolate Rating on Scale of 5: 4.5 Ghirardelli Salty Caramels (just shy of perfection)

From the Jacket

To build a future, sometimes you have to tear down the past….

“Chicago event planner Libby Hamilton can turn any bland setting into a dramatic venue—but when she abruptly loses her job, and her fair-weather boyfriend moves to another state, Libby suddenly finds herself back in the tiny town she grew up in. Worse than that, her father wants help transforming an old schoolhouse into a vintage ice cream parlor and Libby must trade in her power suits for power tools.

“Widowed restoration specialist Tom Murphy can rebuild just about anything—except the shattered relationship he shares with his teenaged daughter. Hired by Libby’s father, Tom isn’t interested in sharing the details of his personal life with beautiful, spunky Libby. He just wants to get the job done. But she is tenacious—and sexy—and it doesn’t take long before she breaks down his walls, builds up his hope, and gets a hold on his heart that won’t let go.”


Hold on my Heart, Tracy Brogan (Montlake Romance, 2013)

Tracy Brogan presented a fall 2016 program to Central Ohio Fiction Writers, my local chapter of Romance Writers of America. She’d brought a number of extra copies of her books, including ones in foreign translations. She donated them to the club! New to romance writing, and not yet having decided if I was joining COFW back then (I joined at the end of December, 2016), I hung back until the other members made their selections.

This was one of the books Brogan talked about. She said she imagined what the worst possible way for characters to meet was. She described how Libby had been bicycling; squatting behind a dumpster is involved; and then Tom appears. If you’re going to meet like that, I knew this character needed both a sense of humor and a backbone. She has both, always feeling realistic.

This short, delicious read hits all the right areas for me, regardless of genre:

  • Characters build depth as the story progress.
  • Cast of characters supports the novel and adds subplots to keep me ever hooked as to what’s happening next. The Hamilton family members lead an interesting life.
  • Brogan didn’t head hop: Libby and Tom are the only points of view, and I never wondered when she made a switch: either she did it at chapter breaks or as section breaks, and within one sentence I knew whose point of view I was in.
  • Distinct voices for the characters.
  • Puts me through the range of emotions—one page I’m laughing at the dynamics of the Hamilton family, the next I’m teary-eyed, later I’m crying outright, and later I’m blushing at the romance.
  • I don’t always need an “alpha” hero. I like the wholesome guy next door, and that’s emotionally wounded Tom.
  • While I KNOW a romance typically ends happily, Brogan never gave me that certainty.

Set in a small town that seems to be recovering from harder times, the setup felt authentic as I pictured smaller towns I’ve bicycled through. Hope or despair, the buildings and the people I meet show me where they stand, and Brogan did the same as she painted Monroe.

Even if some of the events in the book seemed totally outlandish, because I’d bought into the Hamilton family as people (think your most dysfunctional Thanksgiving dinner, then see how yours stacks up to one of their dinners, then ultimately their Thanksgiving dinner), I believed the happenings. From cantankerous “Nana” (the grandmother) to Libby’s opinionated two sisters (both with their subplots, and all 3 have delightfully historical names), her father’s life-changing decision to buy the historic building to turn it into an ice cream parlor, and to her mother, long-suffering from her husband’s spontaneous decisions, I believed in this family.

Tom serves as a great contrast for Libby. She’s talkative, into bigger gatherings and organizing things, while he’s reserved, focused on the specific tasks of restoration, and determined to keep their relationship professional. Give it time, though, and watch the magic happen between them.

In chapter twenty, if you’re not crying happy tears, you’ve got a better grip on your emotions than I do. Yup, I invested in most of the characters.

At the end of the novel, when Brogan tied off those sub-plots, she sucker punched me, but I had to forgive her. That raised the stakes, leaving me wondering still more, was she really letting Libby secure a happy ending?

I’ll definitely grab another Tracy Brogan book down the line. So many books, so little time!

Take this book along with you to the beach, read it while waiting in line at a store, or curl up in a comfy chair and settle in. At 213 pages, it’s a fast, fun read. I can’t speak to the audiobook version, but one reviewer wasn’t a fan of the artist chosen for that reading.

What do you like best about romances? If you’ve read Hold on my Heart, what did you think?


Tracy Brogan’s earning accolades right and left:

  • Amazon and Wall Street Journal Bestselling author
  • Three-time Romance Writers of America® RITA award nominee for Best First Book in 2013, and Best Contemporary Romance in 2015 and in 2016
  • Booksellers Best award winner
  • Three-time Golden Quill award winner in both contemporary and historical romance
  • Amazon Publishing Diamond Award

Learn more about Tracy Brogan:

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